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One of my local cable stations has just begun running repeats of a few T.V. series I so loved. “NYPD,” as well as “Kung Fu,” as well as “The Wild Wild West” are showing weekly (in NYPD’s case nightly) and I am having a ball recalling episodes I thought I’d forgotten, and seeing anew one’s I caught so many years ago it seems I’m watching them for the first time.
It’s thrilling to enjoy these old programs, especially stuff like “Kung Fu” that meant so much to me growing-up and still ‘plays’ well now.
Watching these shows, I once again realize what it is about T.V., movies, any entertainment like this that really makes it great for me: they are populated with characters I give a shit about.
From “Star Trek” (original series thank you very much, which plays every Saturday night on a different cable network), to NYPD Blue to just about any show I adore-even some new ones, though they are few and far between I’m sorry to say-if I care about the characters presented on the show, even if they are alien to me, or not even people I like very much, I am drawn into the show. I recall an interview with Bruce Dern (an actor I have always loved) saying that when he and Jack Nicholson were first starting out they realized they did not exactly come from the chiseled-chin leading man school of good looking actors. But Dern would say to directors, “Yeah, but we’re interesting,” meaning he and his unconventional looking peers had something to offer in not just their abilities, but with a certain look in their eyes (granted, in Dern and Nicholson’s case, often a crazy look), that because of who they were they could make real the nuisances of interesting characters who a viewer would come to care for, that they knew the difference between surface and substance, and that they could make a writer’s words live through how they played these characters they so respected.
There is an old axiom about live theatre, that if “it’s not on the page it’s not on the stage.” I’d follow that with, unless you have interesting characters on that stage (no matter where or what that stage is) ‘it’ is not going to play at all…or be something we’d still be enjoying decades later.