TV Bosses I’d Work For

Have you ever watched a TV show and thought to yourself, “Man, I wish they were my boss”? Well, I have. So I put together a short list (in no particular order) of the TV bosses that I’d work for.

Barney Miller (Barney Miller)- I feel like this is probably an obvious choice for someone enamored with police shows. Not only did Barney have a more reasonable approach to lawbreakers, he also had an excessive amount of patience when it came to the people in his squad room. He’d finally get to his breaking point, but it took some persistent aggravation. Given that I can be aggravating, it’s good to know I’d probably never get to that point with him, thanks to Wojo and Levitt beating me to it.

Steve McGarrett (Hawaii Five-O)- A no-brainer if you know me, Steve McGarrett is in many ways the ideal. He’ll mentor you, correct you, joke with you, go to bat for you, but he won’t tolerate any bullshit. You gotta put in your effort. I love a boss who has your back, and Steve definitely has the backs of Five-O.

Horatio Caine (CSI:Miami)- Much like Steve McGarrett (as I’ve written about), I dare say that Horatio would go even further for you, particularly in the later seasons when he was decidedly less attached to the rules. He’d do everything possible to turn you into the best CSI he could, but he’d only help you if you were willing to accept it. Some lessons have to be learned the hard way. Right, Ryan? I have no doubt Horatio would kill for you, though, and I really appreciate that kind of dedication.

Miss Kitty (Gunsmoke)- Leaving aside the not-explicity-said-but-definitely-understood nature of the work some of the Long Branch employees were doing, I have no doubt that Miss Kitty looked after all of them. From bartenders to saloon girls, she wasn’t a successful businesswoman because she let the clientele walk all over her and abuse her staff. She’s the fuck around and find out boss.

The Middleman (The Middleman)- All of the patience of Barney Miller, the mentoring of Steve McGarrett and Horatio Caine, and the protective nature of Miss Kitty, with a healthy dose of optimism and clean language. He makes ridding the world of comic book foes less of a chore and more of a good day at the office.

Sgt. Getraer (CHiPs)- As far as bosses with a sense of humor go, Gertaer is up there. Think about it. He had to deal with Ponch’s bullshit all the time. If he didn’t learn to laugh, his blood pressure would have been through the roof. He also has the ability to roll with the punches, which is a pretty good quality to have. Probably the only boss on this list that would go country-western dancing, roller skating, and participate in some questionable athletic shenanigans for charity.

Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Stargate: Atlantis)- If I’m in another galaxy with the prospect of never returning to Earth and our best chance of survival is making new friends, I’m going with Elizabeth. She kept things under control, put people in their place (I’m looking at you Shepherd), and didn’t take any shit from anybody -Wraith, Genii, or Replicator. She had things under control even when they were out of control and honestly, I wish she would have been in charge every Black Friday.

Colonel Sam Carter (Stargate: Atlantis)- Everything you got with Elizabeth, but with the added bonus of a military background, a different science expertise, and some “I have seen some shit” experience. She was also perfectly cool with blowing shit up and I need that in a boss.

Richard Woolsey (Stargate: Atlantis)- If you’ve seen the show, I know what you’re thinking, but let’s be real. Once he got broken in, Woolsey made for a pretty good boss. As a bureaucrat, he brought an element of sneakiness to his dealings with with others in the Pegasus Galaxy and was a pretty crafty negotiator. He also quickly figured out it was best to leave the science to the scientists and the defense to the military. A boss who knows when to let the workers do their thing and when to rein them in is valuable.

Is it cheating to have three bosses from the same show? Maybe. Did I exclude some excellent bosses from this list? Probably.

But this is my list.

Go make your own.

Have Yourself a Jeanette Nolan Christmas

I think I’ve made it pretty clear that Jeanette Nolan is one of my favorites, so it should be no surprise that I could find a way to elevate your holiday TV viewing with her presence.

Here are two Christmas-themed episodes of television shows featuring this holly jolly lady.

Okay, maybe she’s not so holly jolly in “PS Murry Christmas”, a Season 17 episode of Gunsmoke. In between appearances as Dirty Sally (and three years before her spin-off series of the same name), Jeanette played Emma Grundy, strict headmistress of a group of orphans that included Erin Moran, Jodie Foster, Willie Aames, and Todd Lookinland (Mike “Bobby Brady” Lookinland’s brother). In her employ is a handyman by the name of Titus Spangler, played by Jack Elam. That casting right there guarantees a hit.

When Titus, who is Jack Elam and therefore anything but subtle, embarrasses Emma in front of the orphanage’s benefactors during their annual Christmas visit, she fires him. The children, orphaned and impoverished, decide that going on the lam with Titus is a much better life and they convince him to take them along. Naturally, they all end up in Dodge City with Emma following. The plight of the children comes to light when Titus is arrested and Miss Kitty attempts to give the children a decent holiday with a party at the Longbranch Saloon, a gesture Emma refuses. It seems like she’s a straight up Scrooge, but there’s something a little more to Miss Emma than meets the eye.

It’s a sweet episode. You’ve got cute kids, the meaning of Christmas, and Jack Elam being Jack Elam. And at the heart you have Jeanette Nolan playing this very uptight character that goes beyond the stereotype of a heartless orphan-minder.

Jeanette isn’t who she seems to be in the MacGyver Season 5 episode “The Madonna” either. MacGyver takes a break from saving the world to try to bring a little holiday joy to some kids at an underfunded youth center. Sadly, the place is in danger of closing due to those lack of funds and kids like Katherine Isabelle (of Ginger Snaps fame) and Alessandro Julio (who went on to play Lt. Felix Gaeta on the 2004 Battlestar Galactica series) won’t have a place to go. And it’s tough out there on them streets! As we witness a couple of young punks roughing up an old homeless lady who appeared not long after a Madonna statue went missing from a local church. Nothing suspicious about that.

Turns out that everyone BUT Carol the homeless lady is short on Christmas spirit. MacGyver has a case of the holiday blues. The youth center needs $9,000 to stay open. Cynthia (Roxanne Reese), who runs the center, is at the end of her rope. Breeze (Charles Andrew Payne) has no love for the holiday he’s never had. The man who carved the Madonna, Vincent Battaglia (Anthony Holland), is all over sour. And Father Pat (Jackson Davies) isn’t too hopeful about the missing Madonna being returned before Christmas morning. Hell, even the Santa ringing a bell for money is down on his luck.

MacGyver works to both find the missing Madonna for his friend Father Pat and help the young people work to put on their Christmas show to get funds for the youth center, where Carol is now staying. And she helps out in her own special way.

It’s also a sweet episode with cute kids and Pete dressed as Santa and it ends just like you think it will (happy endings all around), but that doesn’t lessen the enjoyment. And Jeanette Nolan shines as the fount of Christmas Spirit. I mean, she takes a broom to a drunken Santa Claus and hustles 8 ball. Can’t get more spirited than that.

So, deck your halls, jingle your bells, trim your tree, and have yourself a Very Merry Jeanette Nolan Christmas.

Best Characters to Join a Show After the First Season

One day a question floated across my Twitter timeline: Who’s the best character to join a show after the first season?

And my immediate response was, “I can’t answer this with a tweet. I need a blog post!”

So here I am, months later, finally getting around to answering that highly subjective question. In order to keep from rambling, I only picked characters from shows I’ve written about here. And even then, I restrained myself to keep it down to a dull roar.

Let’s start off with a couple of the more subjective ones and work our way (okay, my way) closer to objective.

Ben Kokua (Al Harrington) and Duke Lukela (Herman Wedemeyer), Hawaii Five-OYeah, you’re going to have to fight me on this one. Ben replaced Kono (Zulu) at the beginning of the fifth season and stayed through the seventh season. I feel he made a nice addition to the team. Solid, native, not flashy, except when he was undercover and had to wear ugly shirts as part of the gig. Al Harrington had already been on the show a few times, playing other (and usually bad) guys, and has since had a recurring role on the new show (playing yet another character). Clearly, every version of this show needs Al Harrington in some form, though I maintain Ben was the best.

Duke is a legend in my mind. Though Herman Wedemeyer was there from the beginning, the character of Duke didn’t actually happen until the fourth season. Of the 155 episodes that Herman Wedemeyer is credited for, only seven were not as Duke Lukela. Better yet, we get to watch as Duke goes from uniformed officer bit role to a detective with a starring credit in the final season. How marvelous is that? And if you still doubt that Duke should be on this list, then let me point out that the current show also has a Duke Lukela and he’s played by Dennis Chun, the son of the original Chin Ho, Kam Fong. Now that’s legend.

Sheriff Mort Metzger (Ron Masak), Murder, She Wrote–When Tom Bosley left the show, Cabot Cove needed a new sheriff. With Amos Tupper retired, the new law in town came in the form of Mort Metzger, a city cop who didn’t understand why the murder rate of a small town was so high and why some old woman was so involved in solving them. It was the fish-out-of-water aspect of Ron Masak’s character that not only separated him from Amos, but from everyone else in town. He spent half of his time bewildered by the goings-on of the locals, his hard line approach not so effective in a town where everybody knows everybody. Considering Ron Masak was in episodes of both The Monkees and Land of the Lost, it’s no wonder he was able to bring a touch of brilliance to this character and even make his never-seen, often-referred to wife Adelle come to life.

Detective Arthur Dietrich (Steve Landesberg) and Officer Carl Levitt (Ron Carey), Barney Miller–Both Steve Landesberg and Ron Carey appeared on the show as different characters prior to becoming the two of the characters on this list. Steve Landesburg first appeared as Father Paul in the first episode of season 2. The 12th episode of that same season, he made his first appearance as Dietrich, a dry-humored, incredibly intelligent detective who came in as Fish was going out. Of course, the two would appear together for over a season until Abe Vigoda’s official departure at the beginning of season 4. Many of his first episodes involved him trying to find a place in the 12th precinct. By the time the show ended, it was hard to imagine what it was like without him.

Ron Carey’s first appearance was as a character called The Mole in the last episode of the second season. It was only the third episode of the third season when he made his first appearance as Carl Levitt, a short, overly-enthusiastic uniform keen on making detective some day and taking every available opportunity to get into plain clothes. Not just a punchline, Levitt got to be the hero by saving some kids, ratted out the squad room with petty grievances to both protect them and to express his displeasure from being put down all the time, and eventually made detective in the final episode. As well he should.

Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis), Gunsmoke–This twenty-year show was on the air nine years before Festus Haggen settled in Dodge City permanently. It’s hard to imagine Gunsmoke without Ken Curtis, especially since most of the syndication packages typically show the later episodes, but Dennis Weaver played Chester Good for 290 episodes (1955-1964). Festus’s first appearance actually came in 1962, but he became a regular in 1964 after Dennis Weaver left and ended up becoming such an iconic character that it’s hard to imagine Ken Curtis as anyone else (he was, though, playing a few different characters on the show before becoming Festus). Dodge City wouldn’t be the same without him.

This list is far from complete, of course. And it’s far from objective, as I warned. I might just answer this question again sometime in the future. New list, new shows, new characters. The answers are endless.

Who do you think the best characters are that joined a show after the first season?

They Didn’t Have Native Americans Back Then

As I discussed in a previous post, all of your favorites are problematic. All of my favorites, too.

One problematic aspect of reruns that’s probably the most glaring is the racist casting. White actors playing non-white roles has been common place for decades and was probably at its most popular in the Westerns of the ’50s, ’60s, and early ’70s. That’s right. Those Native Americans were not actual Native Americans. Those Mexicans? If they had a speaking role, they were most likely not actually Mexican.

John Saxon played a Native American on Bonanza and a Mexican on Gunsmoke. Martin Landau played a Mexican on both The Rifleman and The Big Valley. Michael Ansara not only played a Mexican in a couple of episodes of Rawhide, but he was frequently cast as a Native American, including starring in his own short-lived series called Law of the Plainsman playing Deputy Marshal Sam Buckheart, a character he originally played on The Rifleman.

Sadly, one of my favorites, F-Troop, was notorious for casting white actors as their Hekawi tribe members. Frank DeKova, Don Diamond, Edward Everett Horton (who also played a Native American chief on an episode of Batman), J. Pat O’Malley, Jamie Farr, hell even Don Rickles all played Native Americans. It seemed comedic timing was more important than racial accuracy. Not that there aren’t funny Native Americans; but back then, they didn’t even bother to look for them.

Of course, Native Americans and Latinos/Latinas weren’t the only ones having white actors step in for them. Boris Karloff played an Indian Maharaja on an episode of The Wild Wild West. Wende Wagner played a native Hawaiian on an episode of Perry Mason, and her aunt in that same episode was Miriam Goldina, a native Russian. Jim Backus’s wife, Henny, played a native mother on an episode of Gilligan’s Island. Spoiler alert! Russ Grieve, who played her native husband, and Mary Foran, who played her native daughter, weren’t natives either.

Two of the most curious examples of racist casting I have ever seen happened on two of my favorite reruns, both of which I’ve mentioned before, but I’m going to mention again because they are worth mentioning at every opportunity.

In an episode of Hawaii Five-O called “Samurai”, Ricardo Montalban played a Japanese criminal. Yes, you read that correctly and aren’t you glad that you did. In the second oddest case of yellow face I’ve ever seen (we’ll get to the first one very soon), a very Mexican Ricardo Montalban had his eyes artificially slanted to play a Japanese man. Like, his accent didn’t change at all. And whatever they did to his eyes made him look less Japanese and more like an eye lift gone wrong. The entire effect is very disconcerting and I highly recommend you try to catch that episode because descriptions and pictures don’t do it any justice.

To make an already confusing casting decision even more curious, Hawaii Five-O was typically good at casting Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders to play Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders in smaller roles, making things like this even more glaring.

The truly oddest case of racist casting I’ve ever seen, however, belongs to the pilot episode of The Wild Wild West called “The Night of the Inferno”. In this episode Victor Buono played Juan Manolo aka Wing Fat.

Yes, let me break that down for you.

White actor Victor Buono played a Mexican man in disguise as a Chinese man. It’s basically a turducken of racist casting and I can’t help but gawk at it because I have no idea how to even begin to process it. I suppose if you’ve ever watched the series, then you can agree that at the very least, it sets you up nicely for some of the more bonzo episodes of the show.

Thankfully, this sort of whatthefuckery is largely in the past and though racist casting does still happen (whitewashing Asians and Pacific Islanders is still unnervingly common), the backlash is swift and loud. A new normal has been and is being established and even if I don’t watch current shows all that much, I’m still all for it.

After all, one day those shows will be reruns.

Rerun Junkie Show–Gunsmoke

It’s the longest running western. It’s tied for the longest running prime-time drama (thanks, Law & Order). Twenty years is a long time on the air and 635 episodes is a lot of episodes.

Twenty years also means different opening credits.

Twenty years also means different opening credits.

Set in Dodge City, Kansas, Gunsmoke is the story of Marshall Matthew Dillon (James Arness) as he tries to bring justice to the Wild West. Assisted over the years by friends Doc (Milburn Stone), Chester (Dennis Weaver), and Quint Asper (Burt Reynolds), deputies Festus (Ken Curtis), Thad (Roger Ewing), and Newly (Buck Taylor), and the saloon owner Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake) and her bartender Sam (Glenn Strange), Matt faced off against a host of bad guys, troubles, injuries, moral quandries, and injustice.

And let me tell you, there was plenty of all of that. I haven’t seen every episode of this show. Probably haven’t even seen half of them (and it started out on the radio with William Conrad as the voice of Matt Dillon, so the saddle bag of history overflows). But I can tell you that they did not skimp on the drama, nor skirt some of the heavier issues. In addition to the usual robbery, revenge, and death you expect on a western, the show had episodes involving rape, white slavery, racism, bigotry, abuse of all kinds, greed of all kinds, murder of all kinds, and that’s just what I can remember off the top of my head. I think every one of the main cast was falsely accused at one point in time and a few even faced the rope, only to be saved at the last minute. I know Festus was nearly hung on several occasions, head in the noose and all before he was saved, and when he was saved NO ONE EVER APOLOGIZED. Really. Nobody ever bothered to be like, “Hey, sorry we nearly killed you. Our bad.” Nothing. I think if you nearly hang someone  and then find out he’s innocent just before you kick the horse out from under him, you should at least have the decency to say you’re sorry. But that’s just me.

This is the cast configuration I know best. See the smiles? The Wild West wasn't a total downer.

This is the cast configuration I know best. See the smiles? The Wild West wasn’t a total downer.

Not every episode was heavier than a blacksmith’s anvil. Many of them were light and quite funny. Typically, anytime Festus was heavily involved, especially if any member of his family showed up, it’s going to be a good time. Festus episodes tend to be my favorite. But no matter what the nature of the episode is, any conversation between Festus and Doc is going to be gold.

Gunsmoke is one of those shows that could have a post of it’s own on just the guest stars. That’s what happens when you’re on forever. Everyone ends up on your show. But here area  few I find worth mentioning: familiar names Nick Nolte, Gary Busey, Harrison Ford, Dennis Hopper, Richard Dreyfus, Jodie Foster, Diane Ladd, and Charles Bronson; Bruce Dern, Royal Dano, John Dehner, John Anderson, Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam, Strother Martin, Harry Carey Jr, and Claude Akins, who were required by federal law at the time to appear in every western TV show; my favorites Ross Martin and Joyce Jameson; J. Pat O’Malley, Nehemiah Persoff, Virginia Gregg, and Vitto Scotti, who were required by federal law at the time to be in every TV show; Kurt Russell and his daddy Bing; Buck Taylor’s daddy Dub; Brock Peters, Cicely Tyson, Yaphet Kotto, and Keye Luke; Ron Howard and his brother Clint; John Saxon, Sid Haig, and Richard Jaeckel; and leading ladies Bette Davis, Vera Miles, Margaret Hamilton, and Gloria DeHaven.

This isn’t even the tip of the ice berg. It’s a mere clump of snow on an ice planet.

Like many of my reruns, I started watching Gunsmoke because there was nothing else on. Having seen episodes from the last eight or nine seasons multiple times now, I can see why this show was on the air for so long. There was always a problem to be solved, a danger to overcome, a gunslinger to tame, a thirst for revenge to quench. This show had it all, right down to the romantic tension between Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty (how scandalous!).

Dodge City may have faced drought a time or two, the drama well never ran dry.

Bless Festus, his mule, and his abused hat.

Bless Festus, his mule, and his abused hat.