Archive for leonard nimoy

Man and Nimoy

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, TV History, Unsung Heroes with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2015 by Tom Steward

The tragedy of the TV actor is that they are haunted by one character for their entire life. For Leonard Nimoy, who died of end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease last Friday at 83, the character of Mr. Spock overshadowed fine performances in many of the defining TV series of the 1960s and 1970s. But popular culture would never allow his empirically-minded alien starship science officer from Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek to die, and if the onscreen death of the character and demise of the movie franchise didn’t finish him off, then it’s unlikely that Nimoy’s passing will do it either.

Finding Nimoy.

Finding Nimoy.

Spock will continue as a character in J.J. Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek movies and will continue to be played by Leonard Nimoy, albeit as an impersonation by Zachary Quinto. TV characters are so much their actors that for a replacement to offer an original interpretation would be as detrimental as casting them in the wrong age or gender. Rather than passing the gauntlet, the movie prequel to the original Star Trek series (and I suppose sequel to Enterprise if you put it that way) concocted a scenario in which Quinto’s Spock was a younger version of the character as played by Nimoy – who also appeared in the movie because time travel heals all continuity wounds – and thus had to customise his mannerisms and delivery according to his predecessor. This freely admitted in plot terms that no-one but Nimoy could play Spock. Technically, re-setting the clock allowed Quinto to go his own way with the character but if anything his performance became more like Nimoy’s in the sequel Star Trek into Darkness, attested to by another appearance by Nimoy as Spock’s future self. Without Nimoy to play off in future films, I fully expect Quinto to compensate further with thorough mimicry.

Looking back from the Spock-themed obituaries, it’s hard to imagine that there was a time when Nimoy would have played Spock for only three years. Of course, three years is another ten in re-runs, and the re-circulation of Star Trek (as much in off-air audio recordings shared between fans as repeats) is what brought Nimoy back to play Spock, first in the astonishingly comparable animated series spin-off that ran in the mid-70s and then in a series of continuation movies that ran from 1979 to 1991, or between Shatner’s third and seventh girdle, whichever way you care to think about it. After that, Spock made his way back onto TV featuring in two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, before he became the missing link between Gene Roddenberry and J.J. Abrams. Spock was the Jack Bauer of his day, unkillable by man or logic. Neither death, nor time, not even the series not being about him anymore, would stop him appearing in it. And this doesn’t even begin to include the times Nimoy performed Spock outside of Star Trek, perhaps most poignantly as a disembodied head reviving the Vulcan for the entertainment of an omniscient teenage alien in Futurama.

Nimoy was already a face in American television by the time he took the role of Spock, and good television at that. He already had a Twilight Zone and an Outer Limits under his belt, which gave the actor anthology pedigree to add to his generic bow of westerns and detective shows. Nimoy had a knack for finding his way into the most accomplished shows of the 1960s, including The Man from UNCLE (which has no reboot forthcoming, regardless of what ANYONE says) and Mission: Impossible, his first TV role after Star Trek was cancelled. Even into the 70s, he was on Rod Serling’s horrific(ally underrated) Night Gallery and Columbo, because no American actor is allowed in SAG without it. His was a face for television, betraying nothing and letting whatever fine piece of screenwriting he was bestowed do the work. It was a time on American TV when emotions were optional, but class was not. Sci-fi TV is his, and it owes him a living. He returned to The Outer Limits when it re-appeared in the 90s, in a re-make of the same episode he had starred in during the 60s. A role was waiting for him on Fringe.

Nimoy also did pro-bono legal work for robots

Nimoy also did pro-bono legal work for robots

There’s more to Leonard Nimoy than Spock (and there’s at least two of his careers I haven’t mentioned) but the character presented him with limitless possibilities for remaining in the zeitgeist long after he ceased playing him on TV. He lived longer and more prosperously than even Spock could predict.

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Conan The Destroyed

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, TV History, Unsung Heroes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2013 by Tom Steward

 

After weeks of speculation, as much of it on-air as off, NBC finally announced this week that Jimmy Fallon would take over hosting duties on The Tonight Show from Jay Leno. The network press release clearly stated that Leno had presented The Tonight Show uninterrupted for 21 years. But when interviewed Leno said ‘this time it feels right’ as if he had been replaced before and somehow managed to take back the host seat. Of course, if you’re not party to the Stalinistic effort to re-write late-night television history, you’d know there was a spindly-legged ginger elephant in the room.

The George Lazenby of late-night talk shows.

In late 2009 Fallon’s predecessor on Late Night with… Conan O’Brien took over from Leno as host of The Tonight Show having been promised the position years earlier by NBC while The Jay Leno Show began airing in primetime. In early 2010, the network attempted to move O’Brien from the current timeslot of 11.35pm to after midnight so that Leno could return to the original The Tonight Show spot with his new talk show following low ratings for both programmes. O’Brien naturally refused and left the network, leaving Leno free to return to his old job for four more years.

So who presents The Tonight Show?

Fallon taking over The Tonight Show only a few years after Leno resumed hosting is the latest in a series of slaps in the face for O’Brien, who after an aborted late-night talk show on Fox ended up with a signature 11pm vehicle on basic cable network TBS in late 2010. Prone to making light of his unexpected obscurity-his house musicians on Conan are self-effacingly named ‘The Basic Cable Band’-the melancholy sometimes seeps through. While comically feigning ignorance during an interview with Kelsey Grammer following a discussion of not getting recognition for doing cable television, O’Brien starts seeming genuinely forlorn.

O’Brien may have been written out of the Tonight Show story but he remains legendary in the history of another great American TV institution, The Simpsons. As writer and producer for the series between 1991 and 1993, O’Brien scripted some of the most undisputedly superb episodes the show has seen in its 24 years on the air (and, let’s face it, will ever see). In particular, ‘Marge vs. the Monorail’ in which Springfield invests in an ill-advised public transport system was a satirical highpoint with probably the best-written celebrity cameo (a tediously anecdotal Leonard Nimoy) and unbeatable dialogue and song-writing.

Other canon-worthy Simpsons classics penned by O’Brien include ‘Homer Goes To College’ and ‘New Kid on the Block’ which pioneered a sophisticated, self-reflexive humour for the show without losing the emotional resonance synonymous with the series from the outset. In fact, Bart’s unrequited crush on teenage babysitter Laura (Sara Gilbert) is positively heart-breaking. He created several characters, such as Ruth Powers (Louise to Marge’s Thelma) and the college nerds, who would return in future episodes. He might even be able to sue the creators of The Big Bang Theory for plagiarism. Perhaps that’s why TBS wanted him at the network.

‘You’re a lot less funny in live-action’

Despite a criminal lack of exposure for a comedian of his calibre, TBS’ Conan is more excellent TV from O’Brien. His sketches remain thoroughly witty and laugh-out-loud funny, as recent spoof discussion segment ‘PopeTalk’, which evaluated the chances of various contenders for the papacy in the manner of a talk radio sports phone-in show, attested. Many recurring bits, such as ‘Celebrity Survey’ in which projected celebrity Q&A responses are collated, seem like they’ll be around for decades to come. After only a couple of years on the air, we’ve seen some memorable interviews, not least a weird-off with Harrison Ford.

Conan: You ever think with all your flying, what you would do if the plane starts to go down?/Ford: Shit and die.

I don’t want to disparage Fallon as much as I want to praise O’Brien. Fallon’s skits and impersonations are first class, as his performance of Neil Young singing the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme tune amply demonstrated. In The Roots, Fallon has at his disposal not only the coolest house band in late-night television but also one of the finest hip-hop/soul outfits of modern times. Fallon’s emphasis on music and sketch comedy undoubtedly gives the late-night talk show a new dimension. But while O’Brien is a skilled, engaging interviewer, Fallon seems more like a teenager who has won a competition.

Class act that he is, O’Brien broke his silence on Fallon’s appointment yesterday only to endorse him and wish him well. He’d have been within his rights to lambast Fallon for taking his job. And call Leno a massive dick…but then there’s never a bad time and place for that.

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