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Some of the best articles on the blog. Typically, these have a picture. It's a low entrance requirement, I know.


February 16, 2012

Nostalgia corner: Treasure Hunt (1982-89, 2002-03) and Interceptor (1989-90)

Posted on February 16, 2012 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Treasure Hunt

Back in the early days of Channel 4, the urgent need for ideas to fill an entire network full of programming was clear. Despite all the preparation time and work, you don't just create seven days of year-round programming out of nothing. So, Channel 4 looked around the world for formats it could use.

For game shows, there was a problem: ITV had pretty much sown up the US format-acquisition market, taking everything from Family Fortunes and The Price is Right. So Channel 4 had the interesting idea of plundering French TV for formats.

Like Countdown? Think it's British? Then gasp in awe at the original show, Des chiffres et des lettres, at 47 years old the oldest TV programme on French TV and one of the longest-running game shows in the world:

Another fondly remembered Channel 4 game show that started at the same time also originated on French TV. Treasure Hunt began life as La Chasse au Trésor (and eventually La Chasse aux Trésors) on Antenne 2:

In it, a bunch of people back in a studio solved clues that would lead to treasure. They themselves didn't do the hunting: that was up to a guy in a helicopter who followed their instructions. And here in the UK, with Treasure Hunt we got more or less the same thing, with former newsreader Kenneth Kendall helping a motley collection of contestants back in a studio to solve clues, all while 'a skyrunner' went out in a helicopter, usually in the UK, sometimes in exotic locations like Australia, to find the next clue and eventually the treasure.

That skyrunner - Anneka Rice, the possessor of one of the most famous, award-winning bottoms on British TV. Here are the very familiar titles.

Continue reading "Nostalgia corner: Treasure Hunt (1982-89, 2002-03) and Interceptor (1989-90)"

February 10, 2012

Review: The River (ABC) 1x1-1x2

Posted on February 10, 2012 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The River

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, ABC
In the UK: Available on iTunes. Not yet acquired by a network

'Found footage' is a storytelling method that's become very popular over the last decade or so in horror movies, mainly thanks to the success of one particular film: The Blair Witch Project. Although you can trace FF's roots back to Cannibal Holocaust in the 70s, it's largely because of the worldwide success of the TBWP that the likes of REC, Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, Apollo 18, Diary of the Dead et al were given the green light over the last few years.

In essence, FF is simple - a found footage story is one that purports to be real TV or film footage recovered from cameras, usually after the people taking the footage have died, and what you're watching is purely a documentary record of how they were haunted, hacked to death, eaten by zombies, attacked by monsters or whatever.

But despite the popularity of the genre at the movies, it's somewhat surprising to discover that The River, ABC's newest show, is only about the fourth TV show to ever exploit the style. It's maybe not that surprising to discover, though, that it's from Oren Peli, creator of Paranormal Activity, Michael R Perry, co-writer of Paranormal Activity 2, and Steven Spielberg (exec producer of Paranormal Activity).

The plot looks relatively simple at first: famed explorer and TV host Dr Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) has got lost up the Amazon, so his wife (Leslie Hope) and son (Joe Anderson) go looking for him. The only catch is that to get the funding for the trip, they have to agree to have the whole thing filmed by a documentary producer (Paul Blackthorne). And we get to watch what they filmed.

Suffice it to say that what they find isn't just a slightly derivative, not very frightening combination of Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project, it's like American Horror Story. Maybe they should have called the show Amazon Horror Story, since that would at least have been more interesting than The River.

Here's a trailer. It's misleadingly exciting.

Continue reading "Review: The River (ABC) 1x1-1x2"

February 9, 2012

Old Gems: Starman (1986-1987)

Posted on February 9, 2012 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Robert Hays as Starman

Back when I wrote about The Invaders, I mentioned the genre of the "fixing-up wanderer" that was popular in the 60s and 70s:

Whether it was The Immortal, Branded, Coronet Blue, The Fugitive, The Incredible Hulk, Kung Fu or any of the others, the format was essentially the same and designed to allow shows to be broadcast in any order during syndication, re-runs, etc, without anyone getting lost: a man (it was always a man) would travel from town to town, doing his best to evade some horrible authority or person chasing after them; he'd try to stay low profile, but sooner or later, he'd discover some drama in the town that needed fixing. The situation would get fixed and the hero would move on to another town for the next episode, typically without anything happening that would change the overall show format (unless it was the first or last episode of a season).

Now the genre didn't die out altogether in the 80s. Occasionally, it would resurface, sometimes mutated through intermingling with another genre. In the case of Starman, we have the marriage of "fixing-up wanderer" with the movie tie-in.

Back in 1984, Starman was a lovely little John Carpenter movie that starred Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen. Bridges played an alien who comes to Earth after intercepting the Voyager 2 space probe and its invitation to visit to us. He takes the form of Karen Allen's dead husband and they go on a road trip together so that Bridges can get a lift home from another bunch of aliens.

Along the way, Bridges' alien learns all about humans and their ways - including emotions and this Earth-thing we call love - and at the final instance reveals that Allen is now pregnant with a child who will be hers and both his and her late husband's. When the child grows up, he will be a teacher to humanity. And it's all very tear-jerking and lovely:

So that's 1984, driving around in a late 70s Mustang, coming to Earth thanks to a space probe launched in 1977. Everyone got it?

Right, let's fast forward a couple of years to 1986 and ABC wants to adapt the movie into a TV series. Rather than start from scratch, the show also fast forwards 15 years into the future… to 1986. So everything in the movie apparently happened in 1971 or earlier.

Huh. Okay. How's that work exactly?

Anyway, that minor logistical issue aside, the story is that the Starman's son is now 15 but has been abandoned by his mother (now played by Buck Rogers in the 25th Century's Erin Gray - yes, the producers couldn't afford any of the original cast) to foster parents who have just died. Realising his son is in trouble, the Starman comes to Earth and assumes the form of another dead human - this time dead photojournalist Paul Forrester, played by Airplane!'s Robert Hays. Together, he and Starman Jr travel together around the country, fixing people's problems while they search for Erin Gray - all while being chased by the same federal agent, now played by Michael Cavanaugh, who gave the Starman such problems in the movie.

Here are the titles - I have to confess it's slightly new to me, too, since I only saw a dubbed version in French while I was on holiday there. As with most dubbed shows of the era, it seemed better when it wasn't in English:

Continue reading "Old Gems: Starman (1986-1987)"

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