Thursday, March 29, 2012


I have noticed many people on various lamenting the disappearance of theme songs and opening sequences on TV series. The truth is I don't get to see very many current TV shows due to work and I don't count some of the comments on these websites vallied. There are so many Freepers, rednecks and paid right-wing hacks commenting of the web these days that it is disgusting.

For some reason, maybe related to my recent viewing of The Untouchables, I thought about another Robert Stack series The Name of the Game. This was followed The Virginian as one of Universal Studios attempts at a 90 minute long program and like Four-In-One and NBC Mystery Movie, it was a "wheel" concept. However, unlike Four-In-One and NBC Mystery Movie, The Name of the Game centered on two journalist (Stack and Tony Franciosa) working for the same publisher (Gene Barry). Each week concentraited on one of the characters. Journalist as heroes? That was the good old days.

Like The Virginian, McCloud, and Colombo, The Name of the Game is rarely seen in syndication because of its 90 minute length. If it does turn up, it is on Saturday or Sunday afternoons or late nights. I remember seeing this show as a kid locally on KOLR-TV, Channel 10 in Springfield, MO. It usually aired on Saturday after cartoons.

I don't remember any of the stories, but the thing that always stuck with me was the opening credits and the jazzy theme song. Looking at the credits on You Tube, I find they are an amazing and very complex design. The use of color and the names of the actors forming their faces is very elaborate and must have been very complicated to create in 1969.

Sadly, The Name of the Game isn't on commercially produced DVDs yet. One episode I want to see is an episode where Gene Barry's character is in a car accident on the way to a symposium on environmental concerns. He wakes up in a dytopian future where the hippies are all old and facist psychiatrist control the government. It was directed by a young guy at Universal Studios named Steven Spielberg.

Also you cannot find a good commercial full length version of The Name of the Game theme song by Dave Grusin. He apparently released one version of it as the B-side of a 45 version of the theme from It Takes a Thief back in the early 70s. The only version I can track down for download is by (I'm not kiding) Dickie Goodman, the guy behind the cut-in novelty records "Mr. Jaws" and "Flying Saucer." Luckily, I have a copy of the original that was on Televisions Greatest Hits 3.

BTW: If you like full length versions of TV themes of the 70s, check out this Retrospace post of Charlie's Angels themes.    


A few weeks ago, I had a post about some unsuccessful facsimiles or copycats in the media. I was doing some research for an intended writing project, when I thought to myself, "I left out The Lawless Years." On further checking, The Lawless Years didn't meet my criteria.

I decided to dedicate a post to the two most famous 1950's TV shows about prohibition and gangsters. The Untouchables and The Lawless Years were not a Cosby Show/Charlie and Company type of situation, but more of an Addams Family/Munsters type of situation. Basically it was synchronicity at NBC and ABC.

In January of 1959, The Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse on CBS, began airing a two-part adaptation of Oscar Fraley's book about Eliot Ness entitled The Untouchables. It stared Robert Stack as Ness, Neville Brand as Al Capone and was narrated by radio commentator Walter Winchell. The rating were so good that it was turned into a TV series for ABC in October of 1959.

In the meantime, NBC launched The Lawless Years in April of 1959. It stared James Gregory as Barney Ruditsky, who was a police detective in New York during the Prohibition Era. Ruditsky was later a high profile private investigator in Los Angeles. It manage to have one whole season under its belt before The Untouchables debuted as a regular series. The show was based on Ruditsky's unpublished memoirs entitled Angel's Corner.

There are many similarities in the shows. Besides both taking place during Prohibition Era, there are several real life gangsters that were characters on both shows, such as Legs Diamond, Mad Dog Coll, Louis 'Lepke' Buchalter and Dutch Schultz. Both shows tried to capture the look of the past in clothing, vehicles and even photographic effects. The Untouchables tried for a newspaper photo and newsreel feel, where The Lawless Years appears to be shot in a sepia tone (I say "appears" because this may have been done to preserve the quality of the picture by the DVD companies, since the show is in public domain).

The differences include the fact that The Lawless Years was only 30 minutes long and The Untouchables was an hour long show.  The Untouchables seemed to have more graphic violence and sexual innuendo, while The Lawless Years handled things in a typical 50s TV cop show manner. Death and sex happened off-screen in The Lawless Years, while The Untouchables had people being run-over with cars or machine-gunned, while they made noises like they were gagging on their own blood. Sometimes they would fall over dead on their car's steering wheel, causing their horn blast an eerie drone. That was if someone hadn't thrown their dead body out of a moving car. It could be said that giving information to Eliot Ness was the equivalent of wearing a red shirt on Star Trek.

Character wise, Eliot Ness, as played by Robert Stack (top) is a very stern, self-righteous, superhero/lawman figure, while Gregory's Ruditsky (bottom) is sarcastic and almost as much of a thug as the gangsters he is fighting. Ruditsky enters a room full of suspects and just beats up at random. Ness always announces that to suspects that he is a federal agent.

The music of The Lawless Years was a generic Big Band-influenced TV theme of the 50s by a composer named Raoul Kraushaar (Who?). Like the composer, you wouldn't recognize the song if you heard it. On the other hand, The Untouchables had a great threatening, dirge-like march by Nelson Riddle. The Lawless Years filled the rest of the show with stock music cues, The Untouchables punctuated dramatic scenes with a "DOM-DOM-DA-DOM" music cue. This usually meant someone was about to be killed.

The villains on The Lawless Years were often times had Jewish or Irish names and were played by typical photogenic actors. The Untouchables must have purposely looked for actors with odd-shaped heads, pock-marks, warts, pimples and scars. The other thing about the villains, which later came to be a liability, was the fact that they had Italian names and accents. Italian-Americans complained and launched a boycott of the shows sponsors.

To me, the big difference is the narration. The Untouchables had the rapid-fire delivery of radio commentator Walter Winchell. The Lawless Years was narrated by James Gregory in the character of Barney Ruditsky. He would start off the show by showing slides of the villain's mugshots or old pictures of New York in the 1920's. This might have worked fine when the show first aired in 1959, but now it is unintentionally funny. Why? People of my generation remember actor James Gregory as Inspector Lugar on Barney Miller. He was always wasting Barney or anyone that would listen at the 12th Precinct with rambling stories about his early days as a cop during Prohibition.

The Untouchables ran four season and The Lawless Years ran three seasons. Probably because of the controversial aspects of the show, The Untouchables became a phenomenon spawning two movies, a series of novelty records by Dickie Goodman and spawned homages on two other Desilu produced shows ("Lucy the Gun Moll" on the Lucy Show and "A Piece of the Action" on Star Trek), while The Lawless Years was just an also-ran of 50s.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Earl Scruggs Dies At 88 -

Earl Scruggs Dies At 88 |

Everyone knows I'm not a country or bluegrass fan. As a matter of fact, I have a recurring nightmare about being able to playing the banjo everywhere I go, including while driving down Highway 65.
However, I wanted to mention Earl Scruggs because he and Lester Flatt gave us both the themes to The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction, as well as Foggy Mountain Breakdown, which is featured in Bonnie and Clyde.

Friday, March 16, 2012


I first saw this in high school on a TV show called Mike Nesmith's Television Parts. To this day I still find this one of the funniest sketches I ever saw on TV. This is by a comedy duo known as the Funny Boys. Jonathan Schmock is the Irish instructor and James Vallely is the dumb jock. I might ad that Jonathan Schmock is also in one of my favorite teen films of all-time, Ferris Bueller's Day Off. He is the snooty waiter at the restaurant. 

Friday, March 2, 2012


Robert Feder has a Chicago based media blog. This article points out problems with the current radio and how it handled the deaths of both Whitney Houston and Davy Jones. It also mentioned that social media and Internet became a better source of information about these two music legends than radio, which helped make them famous in the first place. I didn't hear any mentions of Davy Jones death on local radio nor did I hear any of his music. The national radio shows were more interested in the death of Andrew Breitbart, who probably only about one percent of the population had even heard of. Breitbart was never in an episode of Scooby Doo or the Brady Bunch so his is irrelevant to most people.

In a blog post April 2009 (The most popular post ever - it gets about 20 hits a day), I said that radio's popularity died with Kurt Cobain. Unless things change, I think Whitney Houston and Davy Jones may have been the nails in the coffin. This Monkees song may sum up the state of radio.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Even though I took quite a bit of flak for it (from stupid people who liked Hank Williams Junior and Alabama, of all things) I have always liked the Monkees. Sadly, Davy Jones passed away yesterday at age 66. Here is the obit from the Los Angeles Times. Above is a scene from the Monkees film Head with Frank Zappa.
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