Wednesday, Feb. 3
Alan Rafkin directed TV shows for more than four decades-everything from The Andy Griffith Show to Me and the Chimp , not to mention M.A.S.H. , That’s My Mama , The Mary Tyler Moore Show , Coach and Charles in Charge . Toward the end of ’98, he put out a memoir of his TV years called Cue the Bunny on the Rainbow . It was an angry book. He called Tony Randall a “pain in the ass,” and he called Love Boat star Lauren Tewes “a pain in the neck to direct.”
Mr. Rafkin doesn’t apologize for the book’s blunt tone.
“I’m too old and too rich,” he said. “I don’t care. I’m 70 years old!”
As a director, he believed in speed: “My philosophy is they, the audience, have seen everything you’re going to do,” he said. “They’ve seen every plot line, they’ve heard every joke, so I try to film it with as great a pace as I can. Which means, don’t dwell on every close-up, don’t elongate this and that-just get on with it.”
Mr. Rafkin is not enamored with what’s on TV these days. You might chalk that up to the fact that he is a curmudgeon-but have you turned on the TV lately?
“Why is it all about sex, and shows like When Pets Attack ?” he said. “What is that about? If it were allowed, I’m sure we would have an execution on television on every week. You know … ‘Live from Sing Sing, let’s watch two black people die tonight. Not just one, but two people. Now back to you, Bill.’ Years ago, on The Andy Griffith Show , it was more like a morality play, and those were marvelous to do, because you were dealing with stuff you believed in. Now the writing is so thin, because there’s so many shows-60 sitcoms-and there aren’t 60 funny people in Los Angeles!”
Do you miss the old days?
“I’ll tell you, I started to get uncomfortable when I was doing a show called We Got It Made and it starred Teri Copely and two guys, and the ratings were down. And some guy from NBC-because he noticed on one scene where she had to run to the door-he said, ‘Does she have to wear a bra?’ And I thought, Oh, God, this is where we are, folks.”
Are you grumpy?
“Yeah, about the business and about life, too. I’m a curmudgeon now.”
Have you gotten more curmudgeonly over the years?
“Yeah, I really have. I love the work when I’m having a good time, like on Suddenly Susan , which is not a great show. I know what it is. But I love her [Brooke Shields] as a person. I’ve never met anyone quite like her. She’s just a great human being. To work with her, Bill, is a joy.”
And as an actress?
“She’s O.K., she’s fine. She’s doing better and better and better.”
Mr. Rafkin has also directed Veronica’s Closet ; Kirstie Alley is still on his good side.
“She’s a totally different kind of person,” he said. “You don’t get as close to her as you do Brooke, but, man, she gives you everything. She pulls every shot out of the bag. Yeah, I love her for that. She’s a great lady. She reminds of the great old broads-Ginger Rogers and Carole Lombard and all those people. They really had great guts.”
What’s up for the future?
“I want to write a novel placed in a television studio. Because that’s my turf and I know it. I love the sensation of being on a sound stage. And I want the people to know what it feels like.”
What would happen in the novel?
“I have no idea. I think it will be a mystery.”
“Yeah. I think I’d like to murder Craig T. Nelson!”
The star of Coach ?
“I’m just teasing. But we didn’t get along well.”
What was the problem?
“For the first six years, everything was fine. Then toward the end, he got really cranky and very inconsistent in his mood. I can’t stand inconsistency. He started to get a little mean with me and make remarks and whatnot.”
“We were shooting one day and I gave him some kind of staging and he said, ‘Ah, same goddamn moves.’ And I said, ‘I beg your pardon.’ He says, ‘Oh, nothing.’”
So did you have it out with him?
“Oh, yeah. We were at a party at [ Coach co-star] Jerry Van Dyke’s house about a year after the show went off the air, and he came over to me and he said, ‘Gee, you know, some people were telling me you were angry at me.’ I said, ‘Not angry. I’m really disappointed that after seven years that it ended that way.’ He says, ‘What are you talking about?’ I say, ‘Well, the last couple of weeks and days particularly, you were really rude.’ He acted like he didn’t remember! So I let it go.”
Tonight, catch a rerun of one of Mr. Rafkin’s beauts: Laverne & Shirley . Not that he’ll be watching. “One of the most unpleasant series I have ever directed,” he said. He called the show’s stars, Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, “undisciplined and bratty.” [Nickelodeon, 6, 10:30 P.M.]
Thursday, Feb. 4
Who would have thought Woody Harrelson would emerge from the dopey bartender role on Cheers to beat out the likes of Ted Danson and Kirstie Ally and become an honest-to-God movie star? Palmetto , Natural Born Killers , The Hi-Lo Country , oh, the list goes on … Tonight, he returns to TV as good ol’ dopey Woody on Frasier . He plays the guest who just won’t leave. Should be a gas. Come to think of it, Frasier , the latte of sitcoms, could use a Woody-type character to cut through the foam. [WNBC, 4, 9 P.M.]
Friday, Feb. 5
You like Fashion TV on VH1? It was created up in Canada by Jay Levine, a Canadian. He was working for a TV news station up there in Canada, listening to a police radio all day, when he decided there had to be something better. So he thought and he thought and he recalled those days when his mom would be reading Vogue and he thought of all the advertisers who loved showing off their wares in Vogue and then he had a kind of eureka moment and, voilà , Fashion TV was born.
“It was really sexy and, at that point, it was only a print media thing,” Mr. Levine said. “It had not been exposed on television.”
The show aired up there in Canada for a while before VH1, desperate for ready-made shows that can be had on the cheap, snapped it up. It’s pretty sexy.
“That’s the primary motivation,” Mr. Levine said, “to make it sexy.” [VH1, 19, 4 P.M.]
Saturday, Feb. 6
A Hole in the Head . No, it’s not the Frank Capra movie starring Frank Sinatra-it’s a documentary about the process known as trepanation. Trepanation involves the drilling of a half-inch hole in one’s head; those who perform the process believe it will help their patients to achieve higher consciousness and more brainpower.
“I don’t want to use the word quack,” said documentarian Eli Kabillio. “They seem perfectly normal until they get on their high horse and try to pursue you that it makes sense. But the people that practice it all seem to embody the states that they advertise.”
“More energy. I think it’s pretty crazy. They quantify it in terms of being high. They consider acid to be the top high and something like pot would put you at 60 percent and trepanation is 30 percent, but without the side effects.”
We’re there. [The Learning Channel, 52, 10 P.M.]
Sunday, Feb. 7
Oh, E! network, you gone done it again! The best moments of the Golden Globe awards were not to be found on stage. They were during E!’s two-hour Golden Globe pre-show between the unstoppable mother-daughter interview team, Melissa and Joan Rivers.
NYTV tracked down the recently married Melissa to a horse-jumping tournament in Los Angeles, where she had just finished placing third in the Saturday competition. She said her mom helped her as a broadcaster: “She’s worked with me quite a bit on some of my verbiage,” Melissa said. “I had this thing with saying next or now. They became my ‘safety words.’ She made me think about it.”
Meanwhile, in New York, Joan Rivers talked about what she tries to do with the show: “It’s nice and shallow, which is what it should be. Nobody really wants to discuss Bosnia or the loss of rain forests. I mean they’re all dressed up, they’ve just come out of a limo. They may win tonight.”
This afternoon, E! broadcasts Golden Globe Fashion Review , a one-hour condensed version of the show. [E!, 24, 3 P.M.]
Monday, Feb. 8
In its continuing effort never to broadcast another music video again, MTV debuts yet another game show: The Blame Game . Hey, remember Singled Out , the delightful old MTV game show that brought booty-shakin’ youngsters together? Well, the purpose of this new game show is to drive those very same youngsters apart, taking advantage of one’s inability to know just what is in another’s heart, and the strange fact that we human beings have an easier time predicting the behavior of our acquaintances than we do our loved ones. Well, that’s MTV for you. Always making TV hay out of the mysteries of the human condition. Bet there won’t be too much booty-shakin’ this time out. It will be like Jerry Springer , but with crocodile tears instead of roundhouse punches. More of a bummer than a par-tay. [MTV, 20, 11 P.M.]
Tuesday, Feb. 9
February sweeps is the season of TV stunts. And thank God. For the dark comes down so early in these hard months. We are all snuggled in for the winter, with our bottles of vodka, our papers and our pens, our books and pamphlets, our teas and coffees, our jars of blueberries (we cleverly froze them in the summer and now they are scrumptious!), our family members, our lovers, our sex toys. We take a sauna every Friday night, then get drunk and roll nude in the snow (if you refuse to join us, you are a wimp!), but the rest of the week? TV, TV, TV! Tonight’s sweeps stunt? Johnnie Cochran makes a cameo on The Hughleys . [WABC, 7, 8:30 P.M.]
Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week
One time, Orson Welles was waxing eloquent to me on the subject of the divine Greta Garbo, whose mystery and magical artistry he adored. Of course I agreed but, I said, wasn’t it too bad that, of all her more than two dozen silent and sound films, she had acted in only two really good pictures. Welles looked at me for a moment, then said quietly, “You only need one…”
The two Garbos I was thinking of were Ernst Lubitsch’s witty, charming Ninotchka , and George Cukor’s evocative 1937 version of Alexandre Dumas’ (the Younger) famous tragic romance drama, Camille [Wednesday, Feb. 3, Turner Classic Movies, 82, 4 P.M., also on videocassette] . For her luminous, heart-wrenching performance as Marguerite Gautier, the legendary 18th-century Parisian courtesan known as “The Lady of the Camellias” (the play’s original title), Garbo won her second New York Film Critics Award as Best Actress (the other was for the now dated 1935 Anna Karenina ), and received her third of four Academy Award nominations as Best Actress; she never did win one. Though the Academy tried to make up for this glaring oversight in 1954 with a Special Oscar “for her unforgettable screen performances,” Garbo by then had already been retired from movies for 13 years.
Having quit right after a disastrously conceived 1941 comedy (assigned to Cukor), Two-Faced Woman , she almost returned at least twice: Once for Lubitsch, who wanted her to do Catherine of Russia in his 1945 comedy production, A Royal Scandal (but Fox studio-chief Darryl Zanuck didn’t), and another time for Alfred Hitchcock and David Selznick in 1947′s The Paradine Case opposite Gregory Peck–for which Hitch had jokingly suggested the ad slogan: “Garbo’s back–and Gregory’s scratching it!” Nevertheless, her disappearance from the screen at age 36 and her subsequent reclusiveness only increased her mystique, especially since it was fully in keeping with her star persona, immemorialized in one line from 1932′s Grand Hotel : “I want to be alone.” When she died in 1990 at the age of 84–just about 50 years after her last film–Garbo’s fame was as strong as ever.
And her luminously resonant and nuance-filled incarnation of Camille–dying beautifully of tuberculosis as she gives up her greatest love for his greater good–vividly shows the reasons why. How the camera loved her! There was always so much more going on in her performances than whatever the lines or situations were, so many shimmering thoughts and feelings seemed to pass across her gorgeous face. Next to Garbo, most other actors appeared hopelessly one-dimensional, and Armand–the object of her affection in Camille , played by a very youthful Robert Taylor–is as good an example as any. Yet, of course, that was a rich part of the irony in most of Garbo’s lost-love movies (which is what nearly all of them were): She is always so far superior to the men who love her or whom she loves, and some part of her conveys a bemused sense of this. In Camille , Armand’s very proper father, excellently done by Lionel Barrymore, begs her to turn his son away, not to ruin his reputation by their liaison, and so she does, returning instead to the sinister though complex ex-lover played with quiet flair by Henry Daniell. Garbo’s last big scene with Taylor, most of it done in a single long close-up, makes you at once cry and hold your breath, being so clearly in the disbelief-annihilating presence of cosmic star-acting power. Welles was right, of course, Garbo as Camille would alone be enough to make her immortal.
Follow Peter Bogdanovich via RSS.