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Friday, April 19, 2013

All Style, And Less Than Any Substance. 2.

Imagine it's 1959, and you are Blake Edwards.
You have a meeting with the head of series development at CBS.
You are invited into the room, where four or five executives are seated, and stand to greet you.
Everybody sits, and you go into your pitch:

Edwards: Fellas, I have this years big hit action show for you right here in my pocket.
I did it last year for NBC with "Peter Gunn", this year. I can do it for you.

Exec: Will there be violence? We love violence!

Edwards: Ohhhh, there'll be violence. Exactly like on "Peter Gunn" We'll be in shadows much of the time, our hero will be constantly surrounded by cardboard villains who have the drop on him. He'll finesse his way out of it. This will lead to fistfights, where he is outnumbered, shootouts where he never has a weapon, yet always emerges unscathed.

Exec: Will the hero have an exciting name, like Peter Gunn?

Edwards: Ohhhh, the excitingest.

Exec: Good. Because Craig Stevens is pretty boring. He needed an exciting name like Peter Gunn.

Edwards: Hey! Don't you think I've thought of that? Peter Gunn has been in the Top Ten all year with a boring leading man.
We surrounded him with interesting supporting characters, and shot him in semi-darkness. That did the trick.
And this show has an exotic locale. A gambling ship. Located just outside the twelve mile limit, where gambling is legal.

Exec: So the hero is not a detective. So where does the violence come in?

Edwards: People are always trying to rob the ship. Or people on the ship.

Exec: But the cops have no legal juristiction. So who helps him?

Edwards: He has a friend on the police force who helps him

Exec: Is this the kind of thing that happens in life?

Edwards: Life? What life? This is television!

Exec: Tell me more.

Edwards: Remember the movie "Mr. Lucky"?

Exec: Oh, yeah. In the forties. It had Cary Grant.

Edwards: And he had a gambling ship.

Exec: Don't tell me you got Cary Grant?! It's a deal!

Edwards: Well, not exactly.

Exec: Oh.

Edwards: But we got the next best thing! A guy who is a dead ringer for Cary Grant!

Exec: Is he any good?

Edwards: What good? Is Craig Stevens any good? We'll get Henry Mancini to do the music, give it a great theme song, just like Peter Gunn, and we'll surround him with interesting, funny supporting actors, just like Peter Gunn. And it's got gambling! Just like "Casablanca!
What other show has gambling?

Exec: You've got a firm thirty-nine on the air this fall!

And so, "Mr. Lucky", the series, was born.
And died after those thirty-nine episodes.
Edwards did deliver on interesting supporting actors.
He brought Ross Martin to our attention for the first time.
He was charming as hell, and this was before the days that anyone knew that he could play ANYTHING.
Pippa Scott was Lucky's harebrained heiress girlfriend, and was delightful.
But the show really had no reason to exist.
John Vivyan, who played Lucky, was a complete cipher who came from nowhere and went nowhere fast.
I watched, quite recently, the Cary Grant version of Mr. Lucky.
It was far better.
Because it was about something.
It was about a conman wrestling with his conscience.
And only one scene in it took place on the gambling ship.
And, well, it had Cary Grant.
On the series, most of the scenes took place aboard ship.
The series was about a nice guy, wrestling with thugs.
It was about nothing.
Towards the end of its brief run, it wasn't even about gambling anymore.
Some chickenshit at the network thought that the show might be corrupting Americas youth by making a hero out of a gambler.
So they turned his floating casino into a floating restaurant.
This ransacked the show of whatever guts it might have had, which wasn't much to begin with.
And after thirty nine or fewer episodes, it went the way of all flesh, as did John Vivyan.


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  1. You left out the most interesting fact about MR.LUCKY:

    It was the highest-rated tv show ever to get canceled after only one season.

    The season-long average was 24.4, tied for 21st place out of over 100 series.

    The shows LUCKY tied with were G.E. THEATRE with Ronald Reagan and DICK POWELL'S ZANE GREY THEATRE.

    LUCKY's competition was Lawrence Welk on ABC and THE DEPUTY on NBC. That last was a Western in which Henry Fonda came on in the first two minutes,said howdy, got on his horse, rode off and left the rest of the show to the title character (a younger actor that nobody remembers today), and then rode back in in time for the final fade.

    Your theory notwithstanding, the cancellation of MR.LUCKY is still considered a Hollywood "unsolved mystery".

    Added note:

    Blake Edwards tried twice to bring back PETER GUNN: once in the late '60s as a feature film
    with Craig Stevens, and again as a tv-movie-pilot in the '80s with Peter Strauss.
    Didn't work out either time.

    Added added note:
    I dug up an old TV GUIDE from my collection with a cover story about Blake Edwards's two shows.
    The "Cary Grant" connection is given play here, noting that Edwards had a third pilot going, called BOSTON TERRIER, which was to star Robert Vaughn.
    This may have been the "Grant" thing again, but what I noticed was what all three of the leading men - Craig Stevens particularly - had was that they looked like taller, more rugged versions of Blake Edwards.
    So that's my theory.

  2. Mike, I never said that "Mr. Lucky" wasn't popular.
    I watched it and enjoyed it when I was a kid.
    It was popular with me.
    But over 50 years later, and watching it on MeTV back to back with "Peter Gunn", which I never watched back then, I have been struck by their similarities, and how hollow and pointless they both were.
    Good numbers have never translated to quality.
    And quality, they didn't have.
    Except for the music, and Ross Martin.

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Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."