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Join us for the latest on the best in extraordinary fictional television and film from the past, present and future, and analysis on its cultural impacts.

Find out about the amazing facts in fiction, and discover the truth about what's really going on in the World around us...

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Friday, 22 February 2008 07:51

Kolchak The Night Stalker

All the news that's unfit to print ...

 

USA - 1974-75 - 20 episodes (60 mins) - colour

Created by Jeff Rice in his novel "The Kolchak Papers", Carl Kolchak, a burnt-out reporter from the old school of print journalism, first appeared in the 1972 television movie "The Night Stalker", with Darren McGavin playing Kolchak, on the trail of vampires in Las Vegas. Returning the following year in "The Night Strangler", the star was quick to recognise the potential of both the character and situations, and soon a series was in production.

Executive produced by McGavin, Kolchak: The Night Stalker relocated to Chicago, with the rumpled reporter working for the crime desk at the city's Independent News Service. Not merely a pure horror show, which would have been unacceptable for network television at the time, the series aimed to titillate rather than terrify. Toning down the violence by exploiting the power of suggestion, and expanding on the character's mordant humour, Kolchak stumbled onto all manner of inexplicable happenings and things going bump in the night. From zombies and werewolves to rampaging robots and even Jack the Ripper, Kolchak's main dilemma was trying to convince his sceptical editor, the long suffering Tony Vincenzo, to print these startling revelations.

Missing the plot continuity that contemporary shows have embraced, Kolchak: The Night Stalker was perhaps doomed for the outset to being short-lived. Finding enough stories to fill the twenty episodes without repetition was a major achievement, although towards the end plots were already wearing a thin. Credited by Chris Carter as being the major influence for The X Files, the shadow Kolchak: The Night Stalker can still be seen in the supernatural adventures that have succeeded it. However, a recent attempt to reinvent the franchise has fallen flat on its face.

 

REGULAR CAST
Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak
Simon Oakland as Tony Vincenzo
Jack Grinnage as Ron Updyke
Ruth McDevitt as Edith Cowles

Friday, 22 February 2008 07:47

I Dream of Jeannie

More than a massage in a bottle ...

 

US - 1965-70 - 139 episodes (30 mins) - B&W/colour

When astronaut Tony Nelson lands on a desert island after an aborted space flight he inadvertently releases a 2,000-year-old genie from a bottle who returns to Cape Canaveral with him to serve the new ‘Master’ that has set her free.

Created by novelist Sidney Sheldon at a time when America was forging ahead in the space race, and indebted to Bewitched starring Elizabeth Montgomery as the home-making witch, Samantha, which had premiered the year before, I Dream of Jeannie turned an obvious male fantasy into a comedy of errors.

The over-zealous Jeannie caused mayhem trying to please her Master. Although his fellow astronaut, Roger Healey, discovered Jeannie’s magical powers, her refusal to appear to anyone else complicated Nelson’s life and led the station psyciatrist to believe he had gone crazy. Jealous at him dating other women, Jeannie disrupted his every attempt at romance before convincing him she was the one he loved and they were married in the final year. By then Nelson’s life had been turned upside down by an assortment of her crazy relations, which included Jeannie’s wicked twin sister, played by Barbara Eden in a dark wig, as well as her mostly invisible, magic pooch Djinn-Djinn.

After an animated version of the series, entitled Jeannie, ran for two years from 1973, Barbara Eden reprised the character in the 1985 reunion movie, "I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later", and 1991’s "I Still Dream of Jeannie", with first Wayne Rogers and then Christopher Bolton taking over the role of Tony Nelson.


REGULAR CAST
Barbara Eden as Jeannie
Larry Hagman as Captain/Major Anthony Nelson
Hayden Rorke as Doctor Alfred E Bellows
Bill Daily as Captain/Major Roger Healey
Barton MacLane as General Martin Peterson
Karen Sharpe as Melissa Peterson
Emmaline Henry as Amanda Bellows
Vinton Hayworth as General Winfield Schaeffer
Farrah Fawcett as Tina

Friday, 22 February 2008 07:45

For The People

William Shatner fighting for law and order ...

 

US - 1965 - 13 episodes (60 mins) - B&W

Having followed his first television appearance in the 1956 Goodyear Television Playhouse episode All Summer Long with numerous guest roles, including The Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, For the People brought William Shatner his first starring vehicle, prior to taking the role of James T. Kirk in Star Trek.

Created by producer Herbert Brodkin, the series evolved from the legal drama The Defenders starring E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed as father and son lawyers, which had started life as a two-part Studio One drama in 1957 with Shatner in the role of the younger Kenneth Preston opposite Ralph Bellamy.

As a no-nonsense New York Assistant District Attorney, Shatner's David Koster finds himself up against not just the criminal underclass but also his superiors who found his single-minded dedication for justice abrasive. Only his immediate boss, Bureau Chief Anthony Celese, played by Howard Da Silva who was returning to regular work after being blacklisted in the 1950s, admires Koster’s zeal and offers sage advice, while Lonny Chapma'’s Detective Malloy helps seek out the criminals to prosecute. In private Koster's life was just as tumultuous, married to a string-quartet viola player whose priorities often conflicted with his own.

Although short lived, the series employed one of the first story-line cross-overs between different series as an episode of Brodkin's The Nurses, which followed the lives of two nurses working in a large New York hospital, concluded five days later in the fourth episode of For the People. Several episodes have recently turned up at Festivals around the world.

 

REGULAR CAST
William Shatner as David Koster
Howard Da Silva as Anthony Celese
Lonny Chapman as Frank Malloy
Jessica Walter as Phyllis Koster

 

 

Friday, 22 February 2008 07:42

Fantastic Journey, The

Holiday makers get the Bermuda Triangle Blues ...

 

USA - 1977 - 10 episodes (one 90 min pilot, 9 x 60 mins) - colour

Playing in the UK on BBC1 between March and May 1977, just weeks after it had screened for the first time in America, The Fantastic Journey was a mid-season replacement, brought in to pick up viewers where a cancelled series had failed. In fact, the pilot movie had been made the previous Summer, and the delay getting the green light to go into production meant massive cast changes for the nine episodes that followed.

The Bermuda Triangle has for decades been the source of conjecture. Dozens of ships and planes have vanished in the area since World War Two, a 100,000 square mile body of water in the South-Western quadrant of the North Atlantic. Its apexes join Bermuda on the North, Puerto Rico on the South-East, and a point in the Gulf of Mexico west of Florida. Unimposing coral islands, sun-soaked beaches and clear-blue waters do not calm the nerves of visitors to the area. Naturally, the believers in the phenomenon have their theories as to what may be hidden in the area. Is it inhabited by extra-terrestrial visitors? Could there be the remains of a giant prism left by a past civilisation that sends out focussed beams when particular lunar and astral conditions re-activate it? A great void that leads to the centre of the earth? Or is it, just possibly, as "The Fantastic Journey" leads us to believe, a space-time warp that traps its victims in another dimension?

The original premise involved a Professor Jordan (Scott Thomas), leading an archaeological expedition by boat into The Devil's Triangle (an alternative name for The Bermuda Triangle). He is accompanied by his son Scott, Eve (Susan Howard - before she went on to play Donna Krebbs in Dallas), medic Jill (Karen Somerville), and Doctor Fred Walters (Carl Franklin). They borrow Ben Wallace's boat for the trip (Leif Erickson - famous from starring as Big John Cannon in The High Chaparral), but all does not go to plan. Soon, they find themselves engulfed in an unexplained green cloud, a bell tolling in the distance, and they lose consciousness.

They awaken on a beach, some of them injured, but at least most of them are alive. It's not long before a figure dressed in a loincloth appears, armed with a magic crystal tuning fork which can miraculously heal the travellers' injuries. They have encountered Varian, an earthman stranded in this dimensional paradox too, having originated from the year 2230 AD.

Their first adventure sees them battle Ian McShane as a 16th Century villain called Sir James Camden. Desi Arnaz Jr is also on hand as a Second World War Navy pilot who's lost his marbles. With characters being killed off, and the party of survivors splitting up into two, we are left with just Varian, Fred and Scott to continue onwards into series television.

They are joined by Liana (Katie Saylor), a descendent from the civilisation that was Atlantis, whose mother was apparently from another solar system. She has a constant companion in the shape of a skilled and intelligent cat called Sil-L, with whom she can communicate telepathically (Sil-L was played by a trio of cats, collectively known as "The Felix Team"). Liana's reason for joining the travellers is to get back to her mother's home planet.

The ace up the producers' sleeves came in the form of the actor they brought in to join the ensemble in the third story, "Beyond The Mountain". Genre heavyweight Roddy McDowall played Dr Jonathan Willoway, a rebel scientist from the 1960s, who has created a hideaway where androids serve his every need.


REGULAR CAST
Jared Martin as Varian
Ike Eisenmann as Scott Jordan
Carl Franklin as Fred Walters
Katie Saylor as Liana
Roddy McDowall as Jonathan Willoway

Friday, 22 February 2008 07:37

Crime Story

The glitz and glamour of Chicago's Major Crime Unit ...

 

USA - 1986-88 - 48 episodes (60 mins) - colour

After the MTV gloss of Miami Vice, Michael Mann returned to his Chicago roots with this latter-day version of The Untouchables. Set in the turbulent early sixties before the Miranda act was passed, at a time when cops could fight dirtier than the crooks, shooting first and asking questions later, Crime Story centred on the city's Major Crime Unit, headed by hard-boiled Lt Mike Torello (Dennis Farina) and his rivalry between the ambitious, up-and-coming gangster, Ray Luca (Anthony Denison) and his crew, that would turn into all-out war.

Along with the distinctive visual styling of a Michael Mann production that included spot on period detail and a terrific assortment of 1960s rock songs that kicked off with Del Shannon's "Runaway" for the theme tune, proceedural authenticity was assured by the fact that Chuck Adamson, the show's co-creator, had served for seventeen years with the CPD while ex-cop Farina had been a member of the actual squad fictionalized in the series.

Although conceived by Mann as an epic mini-series with an established beginning, middle and end that would run the course of one season, the NBC network was looking for something more open-ended. By the second year, Luca had moved his base of operations to Las Vegas, and Torello and his team had become agents of a Federal Strike Force in order to go after him. Unfortunately most of the original writers had jumped ship for the Stephen J Cannell-produced Wiseguy and the series was never the same.

 

REGULAR CAST
Dennis Farina as Mike Torrello
Anthony John Denison as Ray Luca
John Santucci as Pauli Taglia
Stephen Lang as David Abrams
Bill Smitrovich as Danny Krychek
Bill Campbell as Joey Indelli
Paul Butler as Walter Clemmons
Steve Ryan as Nate Grossman
Ted Levine as Frank Holman
Joseph Wiseman as Manny Weisbord
Johann Carlo as Cori Luca
Andrew Dice Clay as Max Goldman

 

Friday, 22 February 2008 07:32

Blake's 7

BBC Science Fiction goes for characters over effects...

 

UK (BBC) - 1978-81 - 52 episodes (50 mins) – colour

Devised by Terry Nation, creator of Doctor Who’s iconic hoodlums, The Daleks, and the post-apocalyptic Survivors, the adventure within Blake's 7 can be assessed as one of the UK's few successful attempts to produce a serious, adult, science fiction opus.

A variation on the format of "The Magnificent Seven", Blake's 7 took place in a grim future, devoid of individual freedom of expression, where Earth is ruled over by the totalitarian Federation. Sentenced to a penal colony, former resistance leader Blake escapes his captors, with an assortment of prisoners in tow, in an abandoned, technologically advanced alien ship, christened Liberator, waging war against their evil oppressors.

For once the low budget that had become a signature of most home-grown fantasy worked in the show's favour, as stories had to put more emphasis on character. Not every member of the ship shared their leader's idealistic views, especially when they were fighting such impossible odds, and the seven usually fought amongst themselves as much as they battled against the Federation.

Overturning television format dramatic conventions, Blake's 7 has not been averse to killing off its lead characters. When Blake went missing in action at the end of the second season, his place was taken by the cynical and self-serving Avon, whose opposition to the Federation, now personalised in the form of Supreme Commander Servalan, was ambiguous at best. The controversial final episode packed an astonishing, twist, creating viewer reaction and confusion on a par with the final episode of The Prisoner, some 15 years earlier.


REGULAR CAST
Gareth Thomas as Roj Blake
Paul Darrow as Kerr Avon
Sally Knyvette as Jenna Stannis
Michael Keating as Villa Restal
Jan Chappell as Cally
David Jackson as Olag Gan
Peter Tuddenham as Voice of Zen/Orac/Slave
Jaqueline Pearce as Servalan
Stephen Greif as Travis (season 1)
Brian Croucher as Travis (season 2 onwards)
Steven Pacey as Del Tarrant
Josette Simon as Dayna Mellanby
Glynis Barber as Soolin

 

Friday, 22 February 2008 07:31

Avengers, The

Thoroughly British Adventuring in the Swinging Sixties ...

 

UK (ABC) - 1961-68
161 episodes (60 mins) - B&W/Colour

The first British series shown on American primetime television with its debut in 1965, The Avengers became the longest running secret agent adventure series of the 1960s. It had huge international success by playing up to all the typical British stereotypes. Original conceived as a format to showcase Ian Hendry, whose Doctor Keel character enlists intelligence agent John Steed to track down his wife’s murderers, The Avengers evolved far beyond its original concept following Hendry’s departure.

Moved centre stage and reinvented as a debonair gentleman, Steed worked with a succession of liberated female partners, from night-club singer Venus Smith and leather-clad, martial arts expert Cathy Gale, to catsuited Emma Peel and trainee agent Tara King. As time went by, the series, originally broadcast live or on videotape, developed a polished, visual style as it moved through to black and white film, and then to colour. Replacing the real world with an idealised fantasy Britain, The Avengers shifted from tough crime thriller to outrageous parody, with Steed and Mrs Peel investigating absurdist conspiracies hatched by a succession of diabolical masterminds in the most innocent of rural English settings.

Although the final year, which introduced Mother, the wheelchair-bound chief of the secret service, achieved some of the highest ratings for The Avengers on British television, it proved less successful in America. When the network declined to buy more episodes the series was cancelled.

Resurrection followed six years later, when The New Avengers emerged – but it lacked the optimism of the Swinging Sixties that was so much part of the original format. It fell between the anticipated familiar parodies and the style of grittier dramas that had come to be popular following the success of The Sweeney. A succession of co-funding ventures eventually dried up (including some which led to episodes being made on location in Canada), and the series was again no more.

A feature film followed some 20 years later, but a savage trimming, following poor mid-American test audience screenings, decimated what was a complex plot much in the style you could have expected from the original series. Needless to say, the result was an incoherent mess which may never be put right, unless a Director’s Cut sees the light of day on DVD in the future.

REGULAR CAST
Patrick MacNee
as John Steed
Ian Hendry as Dr David Keel
Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale
Julie Stevens as Venus Smith
Diana Rigg as Emma Peel
Linda Thorson as Tara King
Patrick Newell as Mother

 

Wednesday, 20 February 2008 16:35

Kenneth Rock

Founder of The British Society of Comedy Writers ...

 

A freelance scriptwriter, lecturer and consultant, Ken Rock is a founder member of The British Society of Comedy Writers.

Over the course of his career he has contributed to numerous comedy shows including The Two Ronnies, The Dick Emery Show, Dave Allen at Large, Naked Video and The Brian Conley Show. Comedians who have benefited from his material include Bob Monkhouse, Ken Dodd, Joan Rivers Don Maclean, Roy Hudd and Jeff Stevenson.

In 1989 Ken became the first person from Western Europe to sell comedy material to Czechoslovakian television. This is in addition to the numerous contributions he made to comedy programmes across Europe, Scandinavia and Canada.

As well as writing comedy Ken has organised lectures and comedy-writing workshops all over the world. The first person to run comedy workshops for Nelonen Television in Finland and for African writers in Zimbabwe, Ken is the first Englishman to run such workshops in South Africa.

More recently he has been involved in a Bollywood project and written a one man show for Tom Owen, the son of the late Bill Owen.

Ken has been a guest at the 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006 Cult TV Festivals.

 

Wednesday, 20 February 2008 16:34

Jim Mortimore

Acclaimed writer of Doctor Who and Bernice Summerfield novels, as well as a composer and sound designer ...

 

Early careers as a rubbish shoveller for the Council, a library-assistant for the Council, a social services clerk for the Council, and a graphic designer for Prontaprint finally led Jim to becoming a writer.

The urban myth of choice when Jim was a mere nipper was that working for the Council was the most secure job you could have. He can personally testify this is a total crock. As a rubbish shoveller he nearly lost a leg when a JCB rolled over a 50 gallon drum of paint and the lid, driven by the resultant explosion, flew past him, discus-style, as if hurled by the very Gods themselves at the world’s first Olympic Games, to carve a three-inch deep gash in a nearby brick wall.

As a Library Assistant he was psychologically abused by a series of middle-aged power-addicts with catalogue-card and typewriter fetishes. As a social services clerk, following a fire in which his office was demolished, Jim was physically assaulted by a stoned alcoholic, whose favourite pastime seemed to be walking semi-naked through the plate glass door of that new office without actually opening it, while demanding his benefit cheque in a drunken slur that would make any self respecting football yob glow with pride.

Can you wonder that Jim gave up this life of rich reward and public service? If "Yes", please put your analyst on danger money, baby. However being the no-nonsense, un-self-pitying, all-round remarkable guy that he is, Jim persevered with the kind of charming and humorously positive outlook on life that his friends, Romans and parents assure him will eventually pay whopping karmic dividends.

By 1992 Jim was happily engaged and working as an award-winning graphic designer (portrait of Princess Anne in the Victoria and Albert Museum! Yay!), and all manner of things seemed well. So Jim decided to buy a house, signing the mortgage contract on his birthday. Clearly this was taking the madness of normality one step beyond. That week he was made redundant and his fiancé ditched him. Suddenly Jim had a house he couldn’t afford, no way of paying for it, and no-one to provide unconditional sympathetic sex.

All the signs were there - God was real, and clearly hated Jim. There was nothing left. Nothing but escapist fantasies. That week, he vowed to make his fortune as a writer of science fiction. Jim would write Doctor Who. Or he would bloody well starve trying.

Jim was a guest at the Cult TV Festivals in 2005 and 2006.

Written Work – books, plays and short stories:
Doctor Who
: "Lucifer Rising", "Blood Heat", "Parasite", "Eternity Weeps", "The Eye of Heaven", "Beltempest", "Campaign", "The Book of Shadows", "A Rose By Any Other Name", "Chiaroscuro", "Five Billion Years From Earth", "Dekalog 5 – The Place of all Places", "The Natural History of Fear", "Blood Circuit", "Second Solution", "Carny", "Mythos", "Pendulum".

Bernice Summerfield:
"The Sword of Forever", "A Bell Ringing in an Empty Sky", "Last of the Drop Dead Divas".

Cracker:
"Mad Woman in the Attic", "Men Should Weep", "Brotherly Love".

Others:
"Babylon 5: Clark's Law", "Babylon 5: Security Manual", "Farscape: Dark Side of the Sun", "The Tomorrow People: A Plague of Dreams", "Space Truckers".

In Preparation:
"First Frontier", "Dragon Tears", "Skaldenland" (Fantasy Novel), "Nova Moore: Space Detective" (Science Fiction Novel), "Space 1999: The Embers of Eden", "Sherlock Holmes: The Three-Fold Problem".

MUSIC - composer and sound designer:
Doctor Who: Embrace the Darkness, Project Twilight, The Rapture, Davros, He Jests at Scars, The Natural History of Fear, Cloud of Fear, Maenad, The Mutant Phase, The Trilexia Threat, Blood Circuit, Second Solution, Enclave Irrelative, Sword of Orion, Planet of Lies, Requiem, Endurance, Mythos.

 

Wednesday, 20 February 2008 16:33

Ken Basford

A popular guest at Cult TV, this television and film writer lives in Lithuania ...

 

Ken became a professional writer at the age of 11 after winning a national essay competition. His prize was a box of Cadbury’s chocolates. Since then, he has continued to write, to gain weight and gain honours. So far as is known, Ken is the only creative writer that has been vetoed by NATO ... TWICE! He sees his strengths as characterisation and plotting, and his weakness as "Kalnapilis 7.30" beer!

This British born writer now lives and writes in Lithuania. For Danish Television he developed, storylined and wrote the first 26 episodes of their first ever television soap opera, Ugeavisen. The shows were always in the weekly top ten most-watched programmes, with many reaching the coveted number one spot.

Ken developed the TV character of Piggy, an animation series based on a strip cartoon that had run in a daily newspaper for many years. Ken introduced an antagonist, Batty, and wrote the scripts. The series of five minute films without any dialogue were produced by the Lithuanian Film Studio.

Ken scripted "Rebuild the Rainbow", a semi finalist at the 2004 Moondance Film Festival. The plot follows two children who have witnessed the theft of the gold at the end of a rainbow – an act that turns the world into black and white. They embark on a series of journeys to bring colour back to the world.

Ken wrote "Plus One" ("+1"), a comedy about global warming. It’s about how a legend grows around the name of Professor Noah Baker and the thirty six thousand three hundred and seventy two trees he planted while he was alive and a further one – the most important one of all – after he died. This was a finalist at the 2003 Moondance Film Festival.

A Member of the British Society of Comedy Writers, Ken does many English language voice-overs for Lithuanian Television documentaries and is a Fellow of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. Amongst his other talents are those of water diviner and electric cable detector!

Ken was a guest at the Cult TV Festivals in 2001, 2002, 2005 and 2006.

 

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