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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.13 – The Lady on Thursday at Ten

I’d like nothing better than to say that the Nancy Drew episodes were the best of this series, but that simply isn’t the case. The Hardy Boys segments this season, without the character, have been far better every time, and while some have been pretty dopey, a couple of them have been surprisingly intelligent and entertaining. So I honestly won’t be sorry to see Nancy go. The only stories of hers that I liked were in the first season. And so tonight’s show was the final solo outing for the character, and the last appearance of Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy, as she declined to continue as a guest star in what had been sold as a show that was one-half hers.

Marie wondered whether ABC and Universal decided to cancel her solo outings because they were of such remarkably lower quality than the Hardy Boys segments. My gut tells me – without any genuine black and white evidence – that the predominantly tween girls in the audience wanted to see Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson first and foremost, and weren’t interested when they weren’t on. I can’t even protest that surely some girls were tuning in for a positive female role model, because the Nancy of year two is not one. She’s unlikeable, illogical, muleheaded, and the way she destroys evidence at crime scenes is pretty amazing. So maybe the girls of 1978 were being superficial in only wanting to watch the dreamy guys, but who can blame them?

Guest starring in this last solo case of Nancy’s, there’s Nicholas Hammond and Simon Oakland, pretending to be policemen when they’re really criminals, and Los Angeles, pretending to be Manhattan when it is most emphatically Los Angeles. Television producers spent a lot of time in the seventies and eighties pretending that southern California was anyplace else, and I have spent a lot of time giggling about it when they fumbled, but…

…the episode begins with Nancy driving through Times Square at night, and she’s hopelessly lost, so every time she comes to a red light, she consults what appears to be a road map of Passaic County, probably because that’s the best the props department could do. You can make out Wanaque and Oakland on it. And it continues the following day, through palm trees and giant open skies and an ornately-designed police precinct that Barney Miller and Kojak couldn’t have dreamed they’d ever have worked from. The Hardy Boys were more successful in convincing me that they were in Egypt and Kenya this season. I look forward to seeing more from that show. It may be a kids’ show, but that crew was trying harder.

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.12 – Will the Real Santa Claus…

A couple of things to note about tonight’s Christmas episode. First, there’s a tip of the hat to the immortal Twilight Zone story “The Night of the Meek”. This story introduces us, briefly, to an alcoholic department store Santa who is barely able to sit up straight. I think that was cute. I also think that “The Night of the Meek” is about sixty million times more entertaining than this thing, but that’s neither here nor there.

Also, in this show’s first season, actor George O’Hanlon Jr. had played Ned Nickerson, who was a dreamboat all-American football type in the original books and a nervous assistant to Carson Drew in season one. While they had recast Nancy’s best friend George with another actress, they did a complete retool of Ned, and introduced him in this story as a brand new character played by heartthrob-to-be Rick Springfield. This Ned works for the Boston DA and is an obnoxious creep with downright hideous taste in clothes.

Finally, our son is now singing “Deck the Halls.” Hot freaking dog.

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.10 – Nancy Drew’s Love Match

Nancy Drew finally gets a solo outing this season… and it’s dreadful. Marie hated it because Nancy comes up with one dumb lie after another to explain why she’s secretly tailing a tennis player she went to high school with. And she has a point: this story did not need the complication and potential embarrassment. It could have been an interesting case with three believable suspects without it. If Nancy and two other characters just quietly talked about the problem before the show pretended to go to Las Vegas, it would have been a stronger story.

The episode tries to wring some humor from other characters acting on Nancy’s lies, leading her to lie further to maintain her cover. But it isn’t funny. Marie absolutely hates this kind of comedy; I’d never ask her to watch that Fawlty Towers where Basil tries to fib his way around a surprise anniversary party for his wife because I know it would be torture for her. Our son picked up on her distaste and turned on the show with alacrity, choosing to hide behind the sofa when there wasn’t anything frightening, but Mom didn’t like it and so why should he?

For trivia’s sake, this was the first episode to feature Susan Buckner as the second George, and the guest stars include Maureen McCormick, Jack Colvin, and Roger C. Carmel, who is by miles the best thing about the episode.

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.5 – The Mystery of the Hollywood Phantom (part two)

Padding, padding, padding. There are barely sixty minutes of story between these two parts, and to add insult to injury, the “scenes from what you’re about to watch” bit, the credits, and the recap of part one takes – no lie – eight full minutes. Even worse, the little teaser scene, apart from spoiling absolutely everything of note in the adventure, includes almost the whole of Jaclyn Smith’s cameo, so we get to see it twice!

One thing they didn’t spoil in the teaser was the identity of the fellow in the Phantom of the Opera mask. No, the producers did that themselves by casting Casey Kasem in a very small role and then having a guy in a Phantom of the Opera mask who speaks with one of the most distinctive voices in radio and cartoons.

Kasem’s bad guy gets clobbered and Nancy is rescued in another scene spoiled in the teaser, when Robert Wagner, pretending to be on set as Pete Ryan from Switch, intercepts the kidnapping. Bizarrely, this kind of preceded an actual incident in 1996, when a shoplifter in Baltimore ran onto the set of Homicide: Life on the Street and surrendered to actors Clark Johnson and Richard Belzer, who were acting as Lewis and Munch. Only Johnson and Belzer kept their cool and didn’t give their criminal a knuckle sandwich like Wagner gives Kasem.

Switch is a mostly forgotten piece of television. It ran for three seasons and my parents often watched it, but it never seemed to turn up in syndication and has never been licensed for home video. There’s a couple of poor bootlegs on YouTube.

Anyway, our son liked this a little more than part one, until Nancy and Frank’s inevitable smooch at the end, anyway. Clive Revill gets maybe two lines, the studio tour tram goes through the ice tunnel again, Joe has an incredibly convenient lockpick in his shoe, and the grownups rolled their eyes at the missed opportunity.

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.4 – The Mystery of the Hollywood Phantom (part one)

Well, this wasn’t anywhere even close to being as good as I hoped. The kid didn’t much like it either; he found it far too creepy. In the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew’s second team-up, they are at a detectives’ convention at a hotel next door to Universal Studios when some goon in a Phantom of the Opera mask, and far more resources and technology than is in any way probable, starts playing And Then There Were None with some famous detectives. Plus there’s the Studio tour, so we get to see the collapsing bridge, and the Jaws bit, and the Earthquake bit.

I paused before the tour started to explain to our son how phenomenally popular the tour was in the seventies, and reminded him of the weird rotating tunnel that Bigfoot carried Steve Austin through. Sure as shooting, we got to see the tunnel again. But there was a little too much creeping around at night for our son’s liking, and the cliffhanger, where the villain snatches Joe, had our son hiding behind his mom’s arm.

But here’s where I got disappointed: the story seems to have originally been shown over two Sundays: October 2 and October 9, 1977, but the preview for part one on the DVD has scenes from both episodes, which is the sort of thing you’d expect to see if this had originally been a two hour special broken into two halves for syndication and home video. And the scenes were incredibly promising: it looked like some of the detectives that our heroes would be meeting in cameos are Marshal Sam McCloud, Kelly Garrett, and Pete Ryan. Unfortunately, only Dennis Weaver appears in part one, and, in a big bummer, Weaver is playing himself on the Universal lot waiting for a setup while shooting McCloud when he rescues Nancy Drew from a runaway truck. (That’s a delightful in-joke at least, because Weaver had such a memorable experience in 1971 with a runaway truck.)

So it looks as though who I thought were Garrett and Ryan will actually be Jaclyn Smith and Robert Wagner on the sets of Charlie’s Angels and Switch. Big missed opportunity, I say. (Except… like this show, McCloud and Switch were both produced by Glen A. Larson at Universal, but Angels wasn’t. Shrug.)

But the strangest cameo of all is… not Peter Falk. It’s Casey Kasem, the immortal voice of American Top 40, playing “Paul Hamilton,” who claims to have once been a respected actor but is now Peter Falk’s double for long shots on the Columbo set at Universal. All credit to Kasem, he does a really terrific impersonation of Columbo, right down to having just one more thing to ask Frank and Nancy. I’d expect nothing less from the man who read long distance dedications for little dogs named Snuggles.

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.2 – The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula (part two)

That’s a better screen grab.

Anyway, tonight we watched part two of Michael Sloan and Glen A. Larson’s season two opener of The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries and it’s… more of the same, with another pair of tunes by Paul Williams and one more by Shaun Cassidy. Shaun, as Joe, gets to smooch Nancy’s friend, and Nancy and Frank get to make goo-goo eyes and will they / won’t they each other. Universal’s costume department got to pull every Oktoberfest outfit out of mothballs to dress the extras, and the props department provided a very silly fake bat for some poor guy to dance around on a wire. This was some very, very silly television, although I did genuinely smile during a cute denouement after the real culprit who is pretending to be Dracula gets handcuffed.

Speaking of Paul Williams, isn’t it so darn weird that he was omnipresent in the seventies, and wrote so many good songs that were hits for everybody in pop music and provided so many memorable tunes for Hollywood soundtracks… and yet he seems to have made the top 100 charts on his own only one time? (“Waking Up Alone” made #60 in 1972.)

Our son pretended to be frightened all night, pronouncing this the creepiest Hardy Boys story ever, and playing up the fake-scared business to let us know that his Doggie would watch the scary bits and let him know what happened while he hid on the staircase. If I didn’t know he was playing at being scared, it would almost make me feel bad about what we’re going to watch Sunday night. Unpleasant dreams, viewers.

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.1 – The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula (part one)

So okay, it seems faintly ridiculous for me to celebrate the first time that the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew ever crossed over into each other’s stories with a screen grab of Frank and Joe with guest star Lorne Greene, but I’d say it was even more ridiculous that this big meeting did not result in a single useable photo of Pamela Sue Martin sharing good face time with either Parker Stevenson or Shaun Cassidy. Is this a harbinger of a troubled television season, or am I reading too much into things? We’ll see as we spend the next couple of months tackling the second season of this program.

Our son was initially excited to see this back in the rotation, because he really did enjoy the first batch of fourteen – the Hardys’ segments more than Nancy’s, just like most of America then – but this one turned around and gave him a really solid set of frights. The convoluted plot sees Frank and Joe tagging along with a small-change rock band to the Dracula’s Castle Festival in Transylvania, because their dad has vanished on the trail of some art thefts that may be carried out by someone in the entourage of a big rock star who’s playing dates all over Europe. For backup and background, Dad Hardy had been in touch with Carson Drew and his daughter Nancy, who really has no time for the “amateur hour” antics of Frank and Joe.

The “meet cute” involves our heroes unwittingly sending each others’ luggage back to the lobby of a hotel in Munich, much to our son’s glee. He cackled with laughter as the tensions escalated until it ends with Frank flipped onto his back. But then the business of some undead fiend possibly stalking the grounds and tombs of the castle while the bands play – Paul Williams and Bernie Taupin are among the musicians – gave him some behind the sofa frights. And I thought we all knew this simply has to be a Scooby Doo plot!

Anyway, the first cast change to note is that that Jean Casey’s character of George Fayne isn’t present, but actress Ruth Cox is here as a nearly identical character, Bess Marvin. Even weirder, George will be back in some future episodes, but played by a different actress. Lisa Eilbacher’s character, Callie Shaw, has been dropped, and so has the character of Ned Nickerson. Maybe they were freeing up space for more guest stars, who also include John Van Dreelen, Norbert Schiller, and Leon Askin. Perhaps it’s just me, but it does feel slightly silly to pack your guest cast with European actors and then ask Lorne Greene to attempt a Romanian accent as a grouchy police inspector.

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 1.14 – Mystery of the Solid Gold Kicker

The other night, our son told us that he gives The Hardy Boys two thumbs up, and Nancy Drew one-and-a-half thumbs up. Then we ran into this segment, which left him confused and bored. He didn’t enjoy this at all. I got a kick out of seeing so many future stars early in their career, including Terry Kiser, Martin Kove, and most obviously Mark Harmon, who’s coming up on an astonishing 379 episodes of NCIS. I had no idea that show has been going so long. Harmon was just a few months away from being cast in his first starring role, in the long-forgotten Jack Webb show Sam, about a police dog and his handler. Bigger and better things were in his future, including the miniseries Goliath Awaits, which we would totally watch for this blog if it were available.

In the last episode of The Hardy Boys, I noted that the director and editors did an exemplary job making stock footage mesh with a carnival and parade, but I can’t say the same about this effort. Harmon plays the kicker for undefeated Overton State University, who play their games at the Not-Fooling-Anybody Rose Bowl, and their uniforms are a little more bright red than the University of Oklahoma’s crimson. Yes, they pulled in lots of old stock footage of Oklahoma playing a couple of other teams, and then the poor director – Andy Sidaris, who would later make all those movies where Playboy models fire bazookas at ninjas in Hawaii – tried to match this beat up footage that looks like it was the first color broadcast of anything, at twilight, with the new material of actors in their bright red and about twenty extras in the stands at high noon in Pasadena.

At least they got a legend to call Overton’s games. They brought in Howard Cosell to do the play-by-play. Honestly, I tease about the production, but the story’s a pretty good one, where gamblers convince Overton’s kicker that he’s killed a girl in order to blackmail him into throwing a game. But the highlight is watching and listening to Cosell doing his shtick and talking his pretentious piffle. (Read more about Cosell at this great post last year at Classic TV Sports. There was nobody like him!)

That wraps up the first season of The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries. There were a couple that I didn’t enjoy much, but overall this was better than I expected! We’ll watch season two a few months down the road, probably starting in late July. Stay tuned!

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