The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Robert Picardo (“China Beach”)

Some know Robert Picardo for the time he spent playing the Emergency Medical Hologram on “Star Trek: Voyager,” while others remember him more fondly for his work as Coach Cutlip on “The Wonder Years,” but at the moment, the TV show on his resume that more people are talking about than any other is “China Beach,” which is – after way, way too long a wait – finally on DVD. Picardo took a few minutes to chat with Bullz-Eye about the release of “China Beach: The Complete Series,” his reminiscences of working on the series, and if viewers are wrong to see a touch of his Dr. Dick Richard turning up in the aforementioned EMH.

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Bullz-Eye: From what I understand, it sounds like we’re both on the same page as far as being unable to refresh our memories on “China Beach”: they tell me my copy of the complete-series set is due to arrive tomorrow.

Robert Picardo: Oh, good for you! But I did already get mine. [Laughs.] They got it to me yesterday, and I devoted some time to it. I watched a couple of the bonus features. There are 10 hours of bonus features, and I guess I watched about two hours of them, or thereabouts. And then, even though I had to get up very early this morning to do these interviews, I thought, “Well, I’ll pop in the pilot and just watch the first five minutes to see the quality of the transfer.” And, of course, I watched the entire pilot. I couldn’t turn it off! So that was a good thing. The fact that I was so captivated was a good sign.

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I’m really happy to see that the show, which was a period piece to begin with…I mean, we made it in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but it was set from ’68 to ’71, principally, and then the last season we kind of skipped into the future as late as 1987. But basically it was a period piece to begin with, so in that respect it hasn’t aged. It’s still a great time capsule and doesn’t feel dated, and I’m so proud of the work in it. Dana is extraordinary, Marg Helgenberger is extraordinary, but the whole ensemble is just great. You know, it was a very special time in my career, and I know and I’ve heard Dana and Marg and pretty much all of the actors say the same, so to have it reach a new audience is really very gratifying and exciting.

BE: What do you remember about your first read of the pilot script?

RP: I remember reading it and thinking it was great. And important. It felt like an honor to be part of something like that, which was really about something, I mean, obviously, you’d…I guess you’d say the success of the movie “Platoon” led to the possibility of major television networks doing Vietnam dramas. And, of course, “Tour of Duty,” our sister show… [Laughs.] Well, that was really more about “Platoon” and about the soldiers fighting. What was unique and special about “China Beach” was that the point-of-view character was a woman, an Army nurse who served there. So it gave the show a special perspective. It wasn’t about combat, it was about saving lives. It was about supporting and helping soldiers. The war was like an offstage character.

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We were the support group there—the nurses, the doctors, the USO people—to sort of support and patch the guys up and either send them back or, if they were too injured, send them home. And more often than not, if they were dead, you’d offer the last gesture of respect to them. That’s what Michael Boatman’s character did, the guy who ran the grave registration. What a terrific role, and an extraordinary performance for a 24-year-old guy. I mean, to have so much…what’s the word? He created such a character who had seen everything, and he was totally believable as a guy who…that was his life, just all of that death and loss. And what that had turned him into was sort of a 24-year-old old man. Anyway, it’s just great writing. William Broyles, who served in Vietnam and who co-created the series, said that he feels it’s the best war drama that’s ever been on television. And, well, yeah, you could say that he’s a little partial, since he co-created it. [Laughs.] But you know what? I agree with him.

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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.'”

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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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