събота, 4 февруари 2012 г.

Angels-TELEVISION, ANGELS ON

Since television’s inception, it is likely that every drama and situation
comedy has had at least one episode that involved the appearance of
an angel. While the actual storylines may vary, the general plot usually
revolves around one of two ideas: how the lives of the characters in
the program would have altered if a pivotal character had never existed
(a la It’s a Wonderful Life), or the granting of a wish to a person who
is most deserving. The It’s a Wonderful Life storyline is arguably the
most used of its kind, appearing in one form or another at least once
every holiday season.
Historically, angels on television appear as normal human beings,
they are rarely portrayed with the traditional flowing white gowns and
wings on their backs. The fact that other humans do not recognize
them as angels is usually pivotal to the plot as the angel is often on
Earth to help out a person in need.
During the golden age of television, much of the programming
that went on the air was, to say the least, experimental. Television
executives searched other mediums, such as film, theater, and radio, to
find successful material that would easily cross over to video. Probably
the first major appearance of angels on television during this period
occurred in 1957 when Hallmark Hall of Fame presented the television
adaptation of Mark Connelly’s spiritual play, The Green Pastures.
This production was experimental in two ways: first because angels
appear as main characters, and second because it featured an all black
cast. This highly acclaimed fable of life in heaven starred William
Warfield as De Lawd, with Vinette Carroll and Hilda Haynes as
angels, and retold biblical stories in black English vernacular.
One of the most popular television shows during the early 1960s
was Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, a series of weekly teleplays with
offbeat, unusual, and often ironic themes. Due to the remarkable “fantasy”
life associated with angels, Serling and other science-fiction
writers made good use of this theme for a number of plots.
In the first season Serling produced an episode called “A Passage
for Trumpet.” The story surrounds a man named Joey Crown played by
Jack Klugman. Certain that he’ll never amount to anything, Joey
decides to commit suicide only to be saved by the angel “Gabriel” who
proceeds to show Joey what the world would be like without him,
again following the It’s a Wonderful Life story line.
The angel theme would show up twice more during The Twilight
Zone’s original five-season run. In 1962, Serling produced an episode
entitled “Mr. Bevis.” After losing his job, wrecking his car, and being
evicted from his apartment, all in the same day, Bevis, played by
Orson Bean, makes the acquaintance of guardian angel J. Hardy
Hempstead who helps him put his life back together. Originally, Serling
intended “Mr. Bevis” as a pilot for a series starring Burgess Meredith,
wherein each week, the angel would get Bevis out of yet another
scrape. However the pilot did not sell.
Although most of The Twilight Zone story lines were sober and
surrealistic, in 1962 Serling produced a light-hearted, humorous
episode entitled “Cavender is Coming.” The plot told the story of an
angel assigned to make a clumsy woman’s life better. Comedienne
Carol Burnett starred as the main character, and veteran comic actor
Jesse White (best known as the original Maytag repairman) portrayed
the angel.
While angels have appeared on television programs since the
golden age, programs featuring an angel as the main character have
been rare. In 1976, Good Heavens, a light-hearted situation comedy,
appeared on ABC television. The original pilot of the short-lived
series, entitled “Everything Money Can’t Buy,” cast Jose Ferrer as the
only regularly featured character—an angel in a three-piece pinstripe
suit and white fedora. However, the series was recast, and Carl Reiner
served as the angel during the show’s one-season run. Each episode
dealt with Reiner bestowing a wish (always non-monetary) upon a different
human (played by various guest stars).
In an unsuccessful television pilot from
1982, The Kid With the Broken Halo, Gary Coleman
portrayed a young angel who tries to earn
his wings by helping three desperate families
with the assistance of senior angel, Robert
Guillaume.
By far the most popular attempt at a television
series featuring an angel as the main character
was Highway to Heaven, which ran on
NBC from 1984 to 1988. The dramatic series
starred Michael Landon (who also served as the
show’s producer) as Jonathan Smith, an angel
on probation whose mission on Earth is to bring
love and understanding to humans who are in
some sort of trouble. Assuming the guise of a
traveling laborer, Jonathan is often aided by his
human companion Mark Gordon (played by
Victor French), an ex-police officer who had
been saved by Jonathan. The emotion packed
storylines made the show a success. However,
there was room for humor, such as the episode
entitled “I Was a Middle-Aged Werewolf,” in
which Landon parodies a character he portrayed
in the 1957 horror movie, I Was a
Teenage Werewolf.
Along this same theme, CBS aired the television drama series
Touched by an Angel, which ran from 1994 to 2003. This distaff version
of Highway to Heaven, starred Roma Downey as an acerbic, independent
angel whose mission is to protect children who are fated for
greatness but are not meeting their promise. She takes her orders from
Della Reese, a messenger on high.
Another unsuccessful series with an angel theme produced in
1995 was Heaven Help Us. The plot line followed a young couple
named Doug and Lexy Monroe played respectively by John Schneider
and Melinda Clark. The Monroes were killed in a plane crash while
on their honeymoon. They awoke on the thirteenth floor of a hotel
(because of superstition, hotels do not usually have a thirteenth floor),
where they met their guiding angel, Mr. Shepherd played by Ricardo
Montalban. Mr. Shepherd informs the Monroe’s that, though they had
never done anything particularly bad in their lives, they had never
done anything particularly good either and as a result must now perform
a series of good deeds. The plot of the first show focused on the
Monroe’s attempts to reunite Lexy’s parents.
Television has also aired a number of madefor-
television movies with angels involved in
the storyline. The Littlest Angel, produced in
1969, starred Johnny Whitaker in a musical
about a shepherd boy who dies falling off of a
cliff and then struggles to become an angel. He
learns a lesson in giving and eventually earns
his wings with the help of fellow angels played
by Fred Gwynne, E. G. Marshall, Cab Calloway,
and Tony Randall.
In 1977, a remake of It’s a Wonderful Life
called It Happened One Christmas first appeared
on television. In this version, the main character
played by Jimmy Stewart in the movie was
portrayed by Marlo Thomas with Cloris Leachman
as the angel.
One of the most memorable made-for-television
movies was Human Feelings (1978). This
movie starred Billy Crystal as Miles Gordon and
a frustrated angel/clerk to God, portrayed by
Nancy Walker (known to all of the angels as
Mrs. G). In a takeoff of the biblical tale of
Sodom and Gomorrah, God threatens to
destroy Las Vegas in seven days unless six righteous
people can be found among its population. Miles takes on the
task, disguised as a mortal. The movie also starred Pamela Sue Martin,
Jack Carter, Pat Morita, and Jack Fiedler (who made an angelic
appearance in The Twilight Zone episode, “Cavender is Coming.” The
NBC movie has been rerun a number of times.
The burgeoning interest in angels in the 1990s created a resurgence
of television shows exploring this topic. The subject of angels
on television was not, however, limited to television dramas and situation
comedies or made-for-television movies. Indeed, many times
angels have served as the topic for daytime talk shows, prime time
news magazine shows and public service shows. Among such programs
were Angels: Mysterious Messengers, an NBC special hosted by Patty
Duke, which aired in 1994, and In Search of Angels, a PBS special
hosted by Debra Winger also from 1994.

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