The Light from the TV Shows: The Prequelization Principle

You know you’re a real fan of “Psycho,” Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film adaptation of Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel, if your first reaction to hearing about A&E’s new series, “Bates Motel,” which premieres on March 18, was to grumble, “They’ve already done a TV show called ‘Bates Motel.'”


True enough: in 1987, NBC aired a TV movie called “Bates Motel,” which starred Bud Cort as Alex West, a fellow with a few mental troubles who shared some quality time with Norman Bates in the state insane asylum and, as a result, finds himself the beneficiary of the Bates Motel in Norman’s will. The intent was to use the movie as a backdoor pilot for a weekly anthology series of sorts, following the lives of individuals passing through as guests of the motel, but when ratings for the movie proved disappointing, the plan for the series was abandoned.

But A&E’s “Bates Motel” isn’t a retread of that premise. Instead, it’s a prequel, revealing how Norman Bates became the kind of guy who’d grow obsessed with his mother that he’d take on her identity on occasion and kill anyone who looked at him sideways.

Oh, wait, you say that’s already been done, too?

Yep, it sure has: in 1990, Showtime produced “Psycho IV: The Beginning,” which pointedly ignored the aforementioned TV movie and showed a very-much-still-alive Norman (Anthony Perkins) calling into a radio talk show about – what are the odds? – matricide, using the conversation as a framing device to flash back to his youth and reveal the bond between Norma Bates (Olivia Hussey) and her son (played by Henry Thomas). It doesn’t exactly hew 100% to the continuity established by the preceding three films, but as a standalone film for casual fins, it holds up relatively well, thanks in no small part to Perkins’ performance.

Actually, A&E’s “Bates Motel” isn’t a retread of that premise, either. Not really, anyway. I mean, yes, it starts at approximately the same point in Norman’s life, and the general idea is the same, in that it’s looking into all the Oedipal-ness of the Norma/Norman relationship. This time, though, it isn’t a period piece. For better or worse, it takes place in present day, which means that it’s arguably not a prequel at all but, instead, more of a complete reboot of the franchise.

Don’t worry, though: the Bates Motel itself still looks just as decrepit and foreboding as ever.

But, of course, “Bates Motel” is far from the first occasion of an existing property has been turned into a prequel for TV. Heck, it’s not even the first time it’s happened in 2013!

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Billy Campbell (“Killing Lincoln”)

Billy Campbell got his initial break in Hollywood when he pulled a recurring role on “Dynasty” in 1984, started to escape from the small screen somewhat in 1991 by playing the title in Disney’s highly underrated “The Rocketeer,” and has since bounced back and forth between TV and film, most recently spending two seasons on AMC’s “The Killing.” This Sunday, however, Campbell can be seen in another “Killing,” when he steps back through the mists of time to play American’s 16th President in the National Geographic original movie, “Killing Lincoln,” based on the book by Bill O’Reilly.

During the Winter 2013 TCA Press Tour, Campbell took some time – more than his publicist was expectingly, frankly, not that we were complaining – to chat with Bullz-Eye about his surprise over being pitched the role of Lincoln, his strong views over Disney’s mishandling of “The Rocketeer,” his even stronger statements to the bloggers who bitched about the Season 1 finale of “The Killing,” and how he was only one audition away from getting the role of Commander William T. Riker on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

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Bullz-Eye: To begin at the beginning, how did you find your way into “Killing Lincoln” in the first place? Did you audition for the gig, or did they actually come looking for you?

Billy Campbell: I didn’t audition. They… [Hesitates.] What did they do? [Laughs.] They approached me months before this happened, and I…well, they didn’t approach me. My manager called me and said, “I got this weird sort of feeler: would you be interested in playing Lincoln?” And I burst into laughter, and I thought, “Ridiculous! I’m not Lincoln!” Nevertheless, we sent them a photo which I thought was Lincoln-esque—or a photo that I thought was the least non-Lincoln-esque—that I could find, and I forgot all about it. And then months later I got a call from my agent saying, “You’ve been offered Lincoln.” And I was…amused. But I accepted. And that was it.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Gifts for the TV Geek

You’ve no doubt already seen the TV-DVD recommendations in Bullz-Eye’s Holiday Gift Guide, but what if you’ve got a TV geek on your gift list who already has every single DVD set on our list? Fortunately for you, I’ve rounded up a few not-at-all-cheap suggestions.

“Community” Holiday Exclusive Gift Set

Features a “Troy & Abed in the Morning” coffee cup (“With a generous capacity of 15 ounces, refills are not needed!”), a Warhol-inspired Troy & Abed poster, a t-shirt featuring the Greendale Seven in video game form. and a plush Human Being…which, if you’re not already a fan of the show, probably warrants a bit of explanation. Per the NBC online store, “The Greendale Community Human Being plush mascot reflects the diversity of Greendale and our species by being nothing at all. Now you can have your own creepy version!” If that doesn’t sound like the icing on a delicious “Community” cake, then…well, uh, you’re probably not the target demo. But maybe you know someone who is, so keep it in mind just in case. ($50.00)

“Dexter” LOOK/SEE Limited Edition Sunglasses

Described as “perhaps the greatest Dexter usable collectable out there,” what you get is a set of sunglasses with white frames spattered in blood, stored in a wooden case which, not coincidentally, looks quite a bit like Dexter’s “trophy case.” The case also includes blood slides and a syringe. Move fast, though: it’s a limited edition set – there are only 500 units being produced, and each wooden case is individually numbered. ($149.95)

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Gary Lockwood (“The Lieutenant,” “Star Trek”)

Your frame of reference to the name “Gary Lockwood” depends heavily on what genres of TV and movies you tend to favor. For instance, if you’re a sci-fi guy like myself, then your instant reaction to hearing his name is either to think of “2001: A Space Odyssey” or, if you’re really geeky (and – shocker! – I am), to his lone episode of the original “Star Trek” series, where he played Gary Mitchell, Jim Kirk’s Starfleet Academy pal who failed to remember that with great power comes great responsibility and suffered the consequences. That one-off “Trek” appearance was actually Lockwood’s second time working with Gene Roddenberry, however, the first time having taken place a few years earlier when Lockwood starred in the short-lived series “The Lieutenant,” which has just been released on DVD by Warner Archive. Lockwood took a few minutes to chat with Bullz-Eye about his work with Roddenberry on both series, and he also touched on occasions in his career when he crossed paths with the likes of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart, and Elvis Presley.

Bullz-Eye: “The Lieutenant” wasn’t the last time you worked with Gene Roddenberry, but was it the first time you crossed paths with him?

Gary Lockwood: Yes, it was. They talked to me about doing this show, and Roddenberry was sitting there with the head of television at MGM, and that’s how I met him.

BE: That was your first time headlining a series, although, you’d at least had a little experience as a recurring character on “Follow the Sun.”

GL: Yeah, well, I was the third banana on “Follow the Sun,” but I ended up doing the most shows. It’s hard to talk about yourself, but…it’s not that difficult. [Laughs.] What I mean to say is that the audience ended up liking my character, so I did most of the episodes of the show.

BE: There’s a quote attributed to you about how being the star of a series is like being a jet pilot: you’ve got a lot of experts working behind the scenes to get the jet running, and then the pilot sits in the cockpit and makes it work.

GL: Yeah, at which point you either live or die. [Laughs.] You get the spoils, but you also get the losses. The reason I kind of make a joke about jet pilots is that you go to work and you don’t do anything, you just sit there in a chair and drink coffee and look at girls. And then they call you, and go over and fly in front of a camera for awhile, and then you sit down for awhile while everyone else does all the work. So I kind of thought it was a little bit like being a jet pilot.

BE: When you think back to the character of Lt. Bill Rice, what’s the first thing that leaps to mind?

GL: Well, I just played him. I mean, I was just an actor. Bill Rice is not somebody I would ever be or… [Trails off.] They did ask me once if I wanted to go to Annapolis, but I was a bit too much of a rogue for that kind of life. One of my best friends did go to Annapolis, but he resigned after about a year. He didn’t like the regiment. So it takes a certain kind of guy. It was very difficult for me to consider. I wouldn’t say I wanted to be like Bill Rice, but acting is all making believe, so you create a character and you just go there and play him. I think I’ve done that with every job I’ve ever had.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Jordan Hembrough (Travel Channel’s “Toy Hunter”)

In my experience, you can generally gauge how legitimately excited a person is about the impending premiere of their TV series when they take the time to thank you for your interest. By this I mean that, while it’s certainly nice of them to respond to an opening salvo of “it’s nice to talk to you” with an equally polite “my pleasure,” it’s taking it to the next level and beyond to both open and close the conversation by telling you how thrilled they are that you A) actually want to talk to them, and B) have shown legitimate interest in their project.

These comments, as you may have guessed, are the way Jordan Hembrough, host and star of the new Travel Channel series “Toy Hunter,” bookended our phone conversation a few days ago. Like myself, he’s both a father and an unabashed sci-fi geek, so it should be no surprise that I enjoyed watching the initial installment of his show, which finds him traveling the country in search of various toys and action figures, including just about everything that was part of my pop culture diet growing up, including “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” and even relative obscurities like “Space 1999” and Disney’s “The Black Hole.”

“Toy Hunter” premieres tonight at 10 PM (9 PM CST) on Travel Channel. If it isn’t already programmed into your TiVo – and if you’ve ever been called a geek or a nerd in your time, it really should be – then perhaps this chat will inspire you to fix that situation post-haste.

Bullz-Eye: First of all, I’ve got to tell you that not only did I enjoy watching the screener, but I’ve got a seven-year-old daughter, and she was digging it right along with me.

Jordan Hembrough: You know, Will, I’ve got to tell you: you just hit something that’s…it’s a real special chord with me. I’m really hoping that families will watch this show together, because when I watched it with my kids, they were enjoying it and asking me about old toys as well.

BE: One of the funniest things – and you may have experienced this, too – was that one of the most frequent comments I heard from my daughter was, “You really played with that?”

JH: [Laughs.] You know, that’s exactly what my son said to me. He goes, “So did you get this with an iPhone application?” “No.” “So does it hook up to a computer?” “No, it doesn’t hook up to a computer!”

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