Eighteen Shows Someone Took a Mighty Risk Producing
The Television Shows We Fill Our Heads With...
THE RISKS OF EXPLORATION
When it comes to putting together a television show it really is best to go along with what is deemed popular at the time. Hey! Every second television show is a Western? People must like watching Westerns so let's make a Western.
Hey! Everyone is big on cop shows? People must like cop shows so let's give 'em what they want.
In this way television tends to get overcrowded with risk free or semi-risk free television programs that are the mutations of what had come before. Some of these mutations are very good and can even be better than the show that kicked off the run.
Ah! But here I wish to deal with the odd bods, the shows that someone took a mighty risk putting out there.
Be warned that, in the true spirit of television show pioneers, some of my views may be controversial and not altogether risk free.
The Saint, for example, had a ready made following in Britain but a slow start in the ratings in the USA because it was deemed to be too British. It did, however, take off in the USA and so made way for other British shows to be seen on USA television.
To some extent the new Marvel Agents of Shield series is daring. It is, however, an off-shoot of some very successful Marvel Comics based movies.
Unlike other killers blood is Dexter's life
Let's put together a television show about a guy who goes around killing people because he has this urge and the people he murders really do need killing. What?! Are you nuts?! The television stations will NEVER put it to air. If they do, they are not going to get sponsors for it. I don't care how well the novels have sold!
There had been television shows about killers or those accused of murder and the difficulties of dealing with them. There was Have Gun, will Travel (1957-1963) starring Richard Boone where you have a gentlemanly gun for hire.
There was Wanted: Dead or Alive (1958-1961) starring Steve McQueen as a bounty hunter.
Of course there have been television shows before about people accused of crimes they had not committed. The Fugitive (1963-1967) starring David Janssen comes to mind. Here we had a doctor on the run who had been wrongly convicted of a murder he was not responsible for. He had to find the person responsible in order to clear himself. But this is a far cry from actually have a television series about a murderer.
Yes, putting Dexter out there was a mighty risk but I am so very glad that it was done. I guess I do have a black sense of humor. The show has been a success and rightly so. It broke new ground.
ILLEGAL DRUGS ARE BAD FOR YOU!
2. BREAKING BAD
Take a science teacher with a classroom full of typically rotten modern teenagers, give him cancer with only so much time to live, coax him into producing illegal drugs to make lots of money for his family before he dies and watch all hell break lose.
There are zip zero traditional heroes in this show. There are just people trying to either get by in really awful situations or triumphing over adversity one minute only to plunge into an even worse situation the next minute. Gripping but definitely not typical television fare.
IT IS HARD BEING HUMAN
3. BEING HUMAN
Let's have a family situation where all the members of the household are supernatural beings but want to live or, in the case of the ghost, exist as close to being human as possible. Of course supernatural elements are always going to get in the way of this happening.
The British version was made with some risk. The American version, because it came later, was far less risky. In any event, both versions are very good and deserve to be top rating shows.
A COP OUT OF HIS OWN TIME BUT STILL A COP
4. LIFE ON MARS
This British show caused a sensation when it first aired. The American version diidn't quite have the same impact. Here, with the British version, you have a modern police officer injured while on duty and in a coma. In the coma he is sent back to being a copper in the 1970s. It is a world where life on the mean streets is hard and the rules for how the police handle really bad situations is different from present day.
It is a time when you don't have women police officers in high positions and the language spoken totally lacks political correctness. Was life better in the '70s? Well, the answer here is yes and no.
This is not typical nostalgia. Dirty socks are on display. Definitely not typical television. Even the title is odd ball and comes from a David Bowie song.
It is reminiscent of shows such as The Sweeney starring John Thaw (1975-1978) with its punch-ups and bagging the villains at any cost. This was a popular cop show of its day though not at all popular with the London police at the time.
Distorting History and Legend for Politically Correct Reasons
5. ROBIN HOOD
This may seem like a strange entry since you really don't take that many chances making a Robin Hood television show. The shows about Robin Hood that had been previously made had been outstanding successes.
Here, with the new Robin Hood television series, the chances taken have more to do with kowtowing to political correctness by rewriting English history and legend to suit modern times. By this kowtowing you are likely to get school teachers, historians and anyone who knows anything about the middle ages in England off side in a big way.
In this latest Robin Hood you have one episode where a non-European type woman is masquerading as a Mother Superior. Why should the sheriff or anyone in England be fooled by her act? England in the time of Prince John was very staid in terms of class and social background. The Normans were in charge. Many of the clergy in prominent positions were of Norman blood. It was not a time of social flexibility.
A non-European type woman pretending to be a Mother Superior would very quickly end up at the stake for blasphemy because no one would believe her and people would be so outraged by her costume. Of course in this version of Robin Hood none of this happens.
Hey! You have many nationalities in high positions in the Church today so why not back then? Well, do your research buddy. Politically correct this may be but definitely historically wrong.
We are dealing with a time in history when even a monk from Wales could be looked on with suspicion for being a foreigner in England. Was it a just and good time in which to live? Certainly not! And that is the point of Robin Hood. He was someone to bring some sense of justice to an unjust world. Why spoil that?
Then in the third series they have to play around with Friar Tuck by having him played by David Harewood. Gone is the rotund friar. Instead we have some kind of black warrior monk who claims to have been born in England. Politically correct? You bet.
Rewriting history and legend? You better believe it! And yet they go to such wonderful lengths to get characters like Much (played by Sam Troughton) and Sir Guy of Gisborne (played by Richard Armitage) cast so well. They also do extremely well with the setting.David Harewood is a very good actor but so wrong as Friar Tuck.
In the 1980s series Robin of Sherwood the makers of the show were clever in that that did bow slightly to political correctness while being clever enough to remain more solidly true to the historical aspects of the legend of Robin Hood.
Among the members of Robin's band was a Saracen named Nasir (played by Mark Ryan). Could you have a renegade Saracen in England at the time? Well if it is set during the crusades and our Saracen is from the holy land, well, yes it does make sense, it does work.
In this way you CAN have a person of non-European background in a prominent role in a Robin Hood show without doing any damage to legend or history whatsoever. It really was a good effort and, by the way, Mark Ryan did a top job in his role.
I am afraid that this version of Robin Hood will cause quite a bit of confusion among the young concerning King Richard's reign and what the middle ages in general were really like.
JULIA TO GRIMM
An African American woman goes for a job as a nurse. The doctor who interviews her is rather abrupt with her and she is convinced she didn't get the job and that he doctor is a racist. It turns out, however, that the doctor is an old grouch and is abrupt with everyone, race doesn't come into it. She gets the job because she is qualified and also because she stood up to him in the interview.
Thus begins the TV show Julia (1968-71). It starred Diahann Carroll as Julia and Lloyd Nolan as the grouchy doctor. It was the first family show that dealt with an African American woman living alone with her son. It was a very well put together show that broke new ground. Breaking new ground is always risky.
7. Doctor Who
Take one Canadian head mover and shaker for the British Broadcasting Corporation, add a young woman and make her a producer, then throw in a temperamental old actor to play the lead role in what should be children's science fiction but what is destined to be much, much more. What do you have? Well if it is 1963 and you also have a police call box that is really a ship that can travel through time and space then it's Doctor Who.
No one at the time envisioned that this show would last for more than six months. The 2013 movie, An Adventure in Time and Space, starring David Bradley and Jessica Raine, tells of all the difficulties at the beginning. Oh, and how the Daleks did conquer the BBC.
This is British adult science fiction at its best. It continues to cause a stir by having a bisexual many character as well as out and out gay characters running around. There are the occasional scenes of girls kissing girls. There are also monsters from outer space for the Torchwood crew to fight.
Torchwood is a daring spin off from Doctor Who. It isn't for everybody but the special effects are great and the scripts are not only weird but well constructed. Lots of new ground broken here.
9. Star Trek
The first pilot created for the television series Star Trek was not a success. It was decided not to go ahead with the show. Sometime later, because of the success of Lost in Space, a new pilot for Star Trek was commissioned. This time it was successful and the green light was given to go ahead and make a television series.
Star Trek, the television series that might not have been, did well in the ratings in it's first season. Plans, however, were afoot to cancel it after season two. Here the fans came in and there was a third season.
Once no longer being produced Star Trek should have faded away. This did not happen thanks to the fans and also to the Star Trek paperbacks and cartoon series that pushed the adventures of the crew of the starship Enterprise even further into the imaginations of the public in general. The result? Movies and spin-off series galore.
10. Lost in Space
Take a family and shoot them off into space in a spacecraft. Give them a place to head for then have a saboteur mess things up for them so they are truly lost. The saboteur? Doctor Zachary Smith.
As Zachary Smith, Johnathan Harris was only meant to be in the first season of the show. He was, in fact, meant to be killed off.
Smith's popularity was such though that Johnathan Harris was made permanent guest star for the show. The boy Will Robinson (Bill Mummy), the Robot (Bob May) and Doctor Smith are now well remembered features of the show and have made guest appearances in such shows as The Simpsons. Oh! The pain! the pain of it all!
11. Family Ties
This show about a family where the parents are left wing and the children are strongly conservative gets a mention basically because of a certain double episode. In this double episode young Jennifer Keaton (played by Tina Yothers) fights for her right to do a school report on Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Her whole family stands behind her.
Family ties ran from 1982-1989. Please note that Mark Twain's famous novel has been banned before in the USA and it seems that every couple of decades Americans do require reminding that this novel is about freedom. Every couple of decades it seems that there is a need for a Jennifer Keaton to lead the way in reminding Americans that freedom is something worth cherishing.
12. MODERN FAMILY
Starring Ed O'Neil and Sofia Vergara, this American television series makes it clear that there are now many different types of families out there and they are all as functional and dysfunctional as one one another. Among the issues Modern Family has raised is whether or not gay marriage should be accepted everywhere. It is a show with humor that does raise some interesting questions. There has been episodes of this show set and filmed in Australia.
For a show centered around a man in a dog suit, this Australian show has really gone places. The USA have made their own version. Through comedy, it deals with some confronting issues to do with both dog and human nature.The issues include pack mentality, depression, loneliness and the need to, in some way, mark one's territory. This is a show that could easily have flopped if not for superb script writing and Jason Gann's curious acting abilities.
14. ONCE UPON A TIME
Here we have a seaside town in which at least all the main characters belong in fairy tales. The thing is that an evil sorceress had taken them from where they belong and deposited the lot in our world. Most don't know this has been done to them and the woman who might set things to right needs some mighty powerful convincing that this has even happened at all. This has proven to be a popular show but if the special effects were not topnotch and the scripts excellent it could have been a disaster.
This is a highly unusual American cop show. The monsters in the Brothers Grimm stories happen to be real and with us today. They cannot be seen for what they are by ordinary people. It helps if you are a Grimm. It is just starting up in Australia and is looking good. There was a time when a show that crossed over from our reality to fantasy and back again wouldn't have even been tempted.
Pushing the Railway Through the Wilderness
16. Hell on Wheels
The television western used to be standard viewing for most people who watched television in the 1960s.
By the time this western came out, however, it was a daring move. It required a lot of capital to pull off and each season ended with the possibility of it being the last season because high ratings had to be maintained for it to continue.
Starring Anson Mount and Colm Meanley, it is about the trials and tribulations of building a railroad that crosses America. There are hostile Indians, some with every reason to be hostile. There are insane preachers, gunmen, whores and people seeking a better life somewhere in the wilderness. There are great mountains to cross and there's always the question of finance for this great venture.
Not the Best of Crews but the Best of Comedies
17. Red Dwarf
Red Dwarf was a brave British send up of the much loved Star Trek. Starring Chris Barrie as the hologram Arnold Rimmer, Craig Charles as Dave Lister and Daniel John-Jones as the humanoid Cat, viewers were greeted by a less than ideal space crew.
Whereas on Star Trek the Enterprise was peopled with the best of the best, the reverse could be said for Red Dwarf. The Mission of the Star Trek crew was to explore new worlds, new civilizations.
The mission of the Red Dwarf crew was to get back to earth. When they did finally make it back to earth their adventures were somewhat lacking. Much of the Red Dwarfs episodes, however, are very amusing. My favorite is Backwards.
The Cold War May have Heated Up in the 1960s But it Also Heated Up in the 1980s
18. The Americans
This spy vs Spy drama set near the end of the Cold War looks somewhat sympathetically on Russian sleeper agents living and working in the USA at that time in which it is set.
Certainly The Americans would never have been aired in the 1980s and is still somewhat controversial today.
Starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, The Americans takes us from the mundane world of USA suburbia in the 1980s to world events that might heat up what was happening between the Soviet Union and America. It has only come to light recently how close we all came in the 1980s to being involved in a nuclear holocaust.
Meanwhile bringing up children born in America who think they are American when you are a Russian spy can't be easy.
More by this Author
New Tricks, The Saint, The Avengers, The Champions, Monty python, Blackadder, Ballykissangel, Red Dwarf, Doctor Who, Cracker, Dad's Army, The Indian Doctor, You Only Live Twice, Horrible Histories.
The Walking Dead, Hell on Wheels, Smallville, Star Trek, The Addams Family, Bewitched, Batman, The Flying Nun, My Favorite Martian, Lost in Space, Due South, Boardwalk Empire, The Untouchables.
Standing tall and one person making a difference has long been part of the American identity. In propaganda terms it has been useful. Can one person really make a difference? John Wayne and Vietnam.