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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Further Thoughts on Masonry

In his comment on my Perry Mason post of yesterday, Hunter Baker is absolutely right about the difference between the TV character of Perry Mason and the book version. Original Mason author Erle Stanley Gardner had control over the TV show, so the Perry you see there is the one Gardner wanted to present at that time to a mass audience. However, I think that the Perry of the books—especially during the first couple of decades of the book series—is far more interesting, and I am convinced that the TV movie or miniseries format would be an excellent way to recapture the full effects of the books for a new audience.

It's interesting to consider the A&E Nero Wolfe and Granada Poirot TV series in this regard: neither felt it necessary to go to great efforts to make the central detective character more personable and easy to "relate" to than they were in the books. These great characters are largely as the authors wrote them (allowing for the natural difficulties of translating characters and stories from one medium to another), and the series benefit greatly from these interesting , complex, and often unpredictable central characters.

I think that the Perry Mason TV series' domestication and bourgeoisification of Mason makes the stories far less interesting and effective than the novels were and still are. Given the recent precedents, I believe that a new series of movies could work brilliantly.

It appears to me that this would be an excellent project for A&E, the Hallmark Channel, TNT, or the USA Network—or perhaps even Granada or the BBC—to take up. There are dozens of great stories there just waiting to be retold for a new audience.


Tom Van Dyke said...

As long as it's got Fred Steiner's killer theme, count me in. I still tune in the reruns at the beginning and the end just to hear it. (The version at the beginning is better, because it features the piano chords, which are some of the coolest in music history.)

Hunter Baker said...

I'd forgotten about that. The music was absolutely marvelous. Best part of the show.

S. T. Karnick said...

Agreed—love the music.

Kathy Hutchins said...

A&E has proved they can produce excellent adaptations of series novels with the Horatio Hornblower franchise. Myself, I've been daydreaming about A&E doinng the perfect Aubrey/Maturin series (I liked Master and Commander immensely, but the single movie format forced Weir to leave out oceans of good material.) But why I am wasting a post-worthy idea in the comments box? Stay tuned -- more on this later.

Do any of you that have older kids have trouble getting them to watch shows like Perry Mason -- material you're sure they would otherwise like -- simply because they cannot stand black and white? It's like pulling teeth to get Rachel to sit down for something like Arsenic and Old Lace, and even though when she's seen it she agrees it was fantastic, the next time I offer a B&W show it's the same struggle all over again.

Jay D. Homnick said...

What Messrs. Karnick and Baker are forgetting is that long after the original show, towards the end of Raymond Burr's life (and long after Gardner's passing), there was a series of TV movies which brought Burr back as a more on-in-years Mason.

This would make it much less likely for someone to try yet another set of TV movies.

Bit of trivia: one of the bad guys in one of those movies was G. Gordon Liddy.

S. T. Karnick said...

Jay, I well remember those TV movies. OK but certainly nothing special. If anything, they were farther away from the original characters than the TV series itself was. They were not based on the books but instead on new, original stories. Paul Drake was missing, replaced at first by William Katt (son of Barbara Hale, I recall hearing), who looked like an '80s pop star, and then by a young blond male actor and then a young brunette actress, neither of which constituted any kind of attempt to capture the tone of the Paul Drake of the books.

That should not stand in the way of anybody doing a series actually based on the books.

Kathy, it is indeed very difficult to get one's children to watch monochrome films, but it does happen. My oldest son can be persuaded if the film happens to coincide with his interests at that moment. Sometimes he'll just drift in and start watching something along with us. It's hit or miss. Middle child watches almost no fiction TV at all. My youngest, age five, will watch monochrome movies and programs with us—until recently, she thought that the world did not have any colors in the "old" days.

Your idea for an Aubrey/Maturin series is a natural, but it might be difficult to pry permission for a reasonable fee, from the film company that owns the rights to the stories. The Horatio Hornblower series was excellent, just as you say.

Hunter Baker said...

I think Columbo could be redone, too. I think the guy who played Tom Cruise's second banana in a few good men could reprise the role.