Saturday, September 22, 2012

General Series Tribute - 55 years of Television Perry

Eeeee! This news may be old-school now, since it’s a couple of weeks old, but I just learned of it a day or two ago thanks to Amazon. And it’s wonderful news to kick off a general series tribute post.

Even though the second half of season 7 should be out in a month (yes!), is already listing the first half of season 8 for a month after that! Here is the article on it, and some possible cover art:

This is very exciting news! Maybe CBS has finally realized that they’ve been moving too slow and need to pick up the pace. I thought it would be another year before the season 8 DVDs would arrive. I hope they don’t end up pushing the date along.

I just have one nagging question: Who is the fellow standing next to Perry in one of the top pictures? I’d almost be tempted to say some moron colored Andy’s hair black (possibly confusing him with Richard Anderson?), but he doesn’t exactly look like Andy. Yet in another way, he does. And continues to the more I stare at it. He has the same hairstyle, the same face shape, even the thicker eyebrows. He’s just . . . very improperly colored.

Oh goodness, if that’s supposed to be Andy, someone had better fix it! I was just silently complaining to myself about Andy not getting on any of the DVD boxes. It would be cringe-worthy indeed if they put him on one only to color him wrong. His hair is so very blond, easily seen in black-and-white and perfectly verifiable in any of Wesley Lau’s color appearances on other shows.

Ah, Andy. Steve. Perry, Della, and Paul. Hamilton and Tragg. Sergeant Brice. Gertie. It’s kind of mind-boggling to realize that it was 55 years ago yesterday, on September 21st, 1957, that television viewers were first introduced to Perry and company on our classic show. (And hey, maybe that’s the reason for the expedited DVD releases? The special anniversary?) That’s over half a century of Perry on television! And of course, some of the characters were known for about 24 years prior to that!

I read that some of the reviews for The Restless Redhead, the first episode, were lukewarm. I’m not sure myself if I like it as the one to begin with, but it certainly establishes many important and key elements of the series, from Perry’s desperate and frightened (and innocent) clients to the lengths Perry will go to protect said clients. Although I’m glad things were mostly toned down from his antics with the gun in The Restless Redhead.

The series changed over time; no two seasons are alike. It’s hard to exactly pinpoint and describe many of the changes, but some lead to others, and others after that.

Season 1 is raw and experimental. But it also has very intricate plots. That’s definitely an upside of being book-inspired. The downside would be some of Perry’s borderline (and occasionally crossing the line) illegal ventures. And there were definitely more wild accusations flung at Perry in season 1 than in any other season. Despite not wanting to change the basic formula, the writers did smooth out and mostly rid themselves of some aspects of it later on.

Season 2 is mostly television-exclusive plots. They’re still very watchable, as all the seasons are, and overall season 2 focuses more on the budding friendship between Perry and Hamilton that season 1 only hinted at. This continues in season 3, up to the point where William Talman was dismissed in real-life and Hamilton becomes absent.

Season 4 continues to deliver exceptional (and mostly television-only) mysteries, with the glaring omission of Hamilton. It could never feel right without him, and when he finally returns, all is right once again. But season 4 has a different feeling than any of the seasons that preceded it or succeeded it. It doesn’t feel like season 2 any more than season 3 feels like season 1. By this point everyone is quite comfortable with the series and has figured out more about the characters’ personalities. Perry and Hamilton’s friendship continues to develop, when Hamilton is around to help see to it.

Season 5 is an odd change of pace in many ways. Tragg’s screentime is starting to be reduced. Andy is coming in, albeit without much individual dialogue. David Gideon briefly pops in from season 4.

And the more book-inspired plots are back. There are more book-inspired goings-on in season 5 than there were in 2, 3, or 4 put together. The plots have a certain intricacy that the others, no matter how excellent, just don’t have. But it also means setbacks in character development. Perry pulls stunts the likes of which he hasn’t dared since season 1. He and Hamilton seem a lot less friendly again, with only a couple of episodes as exceptions.

It’s season 6 that really switches gears again. Much like season 2, the episodes’ plots are again mostly all television-exclusive. The book-inspired ones are more like television adaptations and don’t ignore the established character development.

Tragg is around when he can be, but by this point Andy is being given real personality. It’s increasingly clear that he is here to stay. As is Perry and Hamilton’s friendship, which has many chances to shine in season 6.

Season 7 continues the pattern. Tragg is quietly (and sadly) bowing out, but Andy is well-established by now. (And I still like to think that Tragg is still there, even if we don’t see him onscreen after The Capering Camera.) Perry and Hamilton still often disagree in the courtroom, but are clearly very close friends. Hamilton even admits, in The Ice-Cold Hands, to losing his temper and making a fool of himself. Oh, what a long way he has come from the young and impulsive Hamilton of season 1, whom I can scarcely picture admitting such things.

Season 8 is starting to show the signs of being a mixed-bag. There are many classic episodes, still mostly television-only, but some season 1 elements are creeping back in. Paul is threatened (not unreasonably, mind) with the loss of his license. Andy is sometimes tense, very unlike the calm fellow he has been prior to this. Perry and Hamilton’s friendship, thankfully, is still strong.

And then season 9, a full mixed-bag. The plots are still very good, but by now it’s clear that someone thinks the show needs to go back to its roots. There are season 1-type antics with Perry and more serious conflicts between him and Hamilton. They re-adapt some of the books that they already adapted in the past—and usually not as well as the first time around. They even bring in Clay’s Restaurant, a location mentioned in season 1, and finally show us the previously elusive Terrance Clay.

Andy is gone, with no explanation, and this time no easing out, as there was with Tragg. Instead we have Steve, someone very different from both Tragg and Andy. The writers seem to have figured out that the police character needs some good development, as Steve is given many glowing opportunities to show the varied facets of his personality. With Steve it makes sense, whereas with Andy his personality changes around season 8 seem more haphazard and unplanned.

You know, I have to wonder. After both season 1 and season 5, very book-inspired seasons, there were excellent seasons that were not so book-inspired. If there had been a season 10, would it have carried the tradition? My, it would have been a lot of fun to see Steve take part in a season similar to 2 or 6!

But I am very grateful for all that we received. Nine amazing seasons and 271 episodes. That’s quite a record! And there really are very few duds. The writing is basically very good all the way along, including in season 9. While I wish Gardner had allowed for some more breaking of the formula, I will always be grateful for what he did allow. The television series brought us some incredible characterization for Hamilton and a marvelous friendship between him and Perry that clearly deepens throughout the seasons. The friendships between Perry and Della and Perry and Paul are also very well-done. For people who love romantically pairing Perry and Della, many of their moments can also be interpreted as unresolved romantic tension. In any case, their interaction is gold.

And all the characters are so memorable and endearing, from Perry right down to Steve. Every one of them worked to bring the series to us in their own special ways, and every one of them added something. That is why I try to bring them all into my stories and will continue doing so.

I want to thank everyone involved in bringing the characters to life, from the actors to the crew to the writers, and to Erle Stanley Gardner for the blueprint, so to speak. The characters, while perhaps not the only element that has kept this series alive above some other series, are certainly a grand part of it. I can’t help noticing that the original books are currently out-of-print (minus the recent CD dramatizations of some of them), while the television series is very much in-print. And I can’t help wondering if the interest in the characterization and development on the series is a big part of that. Or more specifically, the original actors' interpretations of the characters and the development.

I know it was definitely a large part of why the 1970s remake failed. The plots, honestly, are not bad at all. They're very Perry-like. And some of the cast, even, is very, very good. (Dane Clark and Harry Guardino, I'm looking at you.) But, regrettably, some of the cast is not as good, and in any case, there simply isn't the same rapport between any of these versions of the characters as there is in the original series. There couldn't be, no matter how good some of them are. People wanted the versions of the characters they knew and loved. Without them, and with it being impossible to have them without the original Perry actors, The New Perry Mason flopped.

So here’s to 55 more years of the original Perry on television! And many more after that.


  1. LOL. You're so right about the coloring. It's totally off. That is supposed to be Andy, I'm sure.

    In the foregroud we see they went crazy coloring Raymond Burr's an unnatural but beautiful, brightest of blue, but they weren't that color at all.

    Who ARE these people who do that? :)

    1. A coloring disaster!

      Raymond's eyes did seem to be quite a striking and unique shade of blue, if The Twice-Told Twist was accurate in its color, but it is strange when people exaggerate it even further.

      I wonder if they color things wrong by accident or if they're so bored they're randomly doing it for entertainment, not thinking those versions will be used. Then they'd get quite a shock, I imagine! LOL.

  2. My favorite seasons are 1 and 2. I think it's because the characters were so new (new and somewhat evolving and new to me), they were so young and attractive, there was less attention to the courtroom (I like the mystery solving outside the courtroom, not to say I don't like the courtroom Perry, but in the mid years and later, the courtroom took over, it seems). I also like the Tragg was around, and I like that seasons 1 and 2 have a more noir look, and a kind of "LA Confidential" feel.

    1. I adore season 2. That's an interesting notation about the early episodes not focusing as much on the courtroom. I'm not sure I noticed much difference in the amount of courtroom time in most episodes. All throughout the series, it seems that there were episodes here and there that had more action away from it. The Accosted Accountant, in season 7, is like that too.

      And I do have to admit, you're right about the characters being very young and attractive in the early seasons. Not that they didn't continue to be attractive later on, but still. Purrr. And seasons 1 and 2 are the only times Hamilton wears fedoras, I think.

  3. Hi there,
    too bad New Perry only has a few mentions here. Because The Case of The Deadly Deeds has a future double oscar winner. Unfortunately it's right this episode from the flop reboot which seems lost forever.

    1. I need to watch more of The New Perry Mason before I can discuss it more. And it's hard to motivate myself to do so when I really don't care for Monte Markham's portrayal of Perry. But thanks for the tip; I'll try to track down that episode and have a look. I don't suppose you've ever come across The Ominous Oath, have you? It's the one I want most that I haven't seen, and of course, it's one of about two or three that never seem to turn up even when the others do. Sigh.