November 18, 2014

Medical Center Diaries: William Shatner goes red-faced, snarls as arrogant cancer researcher

No quality TV drama of the 1970s would be complete without some scenery chewing by the great thespian WilliamShatner

The year after the original Star Trek TV show had finished up its third and final season, seemingly fated to an obscure footnote in TV history, Shatner guest-starred on Medical Center in March 1970, playing a brilliant but arrogantly single-minded researcher touting his new miracle cure for Hodgkin's disease

In a curious age, apparently before such things as an FDA approval process, Shatner's Dr. Eli Neily pushes for human trials of his drug at Medical Center. But Mr. Integrity Dr. Joe Gannon, played by Chad Everett, pushes back in a board meeting, raising concerns about such trifles as patient safety, evidence-based practices and “side effects.” 

“I cannot offer conclusions on a non-existent factor,” Shatner’s Dr. Neily sniffs. 

Minutes later, Shatner and Chad Everett’s Joe Gannon clash in the hall. “Don’t patronize me, Mister,” Shatner snarls, and he then goes red-faced and launches into full Shatner rage mode, as he did so memorably in “The Enemy Within,” one of Star Trek’s all-time greatest episodes. 

November 16, 2014

Medical Center Diaries: Breaking the silence

In 1969, child abuse and domestic violence were still taboo subjects for general discourse, yet Medical Center took them on with an episode ("Victim") about a 7-year-old boy who comes into Dr. Joe Gannon’s hospital with severe internal injuries. 

Dad says boy fell off an embankment, but skilled diagnostician Gannon suspects something more sinister. And the perpetrator isn’t who you’d expect. Above: Chad Everett as Gannon uses his kind, sensitive but straightforward bedside manner to get the boy’s mother, played by the wonderful Dyan Cannon, to open up about what’s really going on in her family.

This episode and five seasons of Medical Center are available for online streaming via Warner Archive, which also makes available thousands of rare, classic and other hard-to-find TV shows and classic films from the 1930s onward. 

November 14, 2014

Has Walnut Creek's downtown construction mania killed Christmas?

Wow, I thought only the Grinch, Scrooge or Mr. Potter (above) could take the cheer out of the holiday season, but it turns out the massive reconstruction of Broadway Plaza is "so extensive" that Santa won't have a home in Walnut Creek this holiday season.

Elisabeth Nardi reports in the Contra Costa Times that the mall's multi-year, quarter-billion-dollar renovations means Santa won't have his usual storefront, and such holiday staples as the holiday lights parade will be canceled and the Hanukkah menorah lighting will be moved. Nothing will return to normal for another two years, the Times reports.

As usual, Broadway Plaza, downtown business association types and city leaders are trying to put a positive spin on all this. One day Walnut Creek will be even more fabulous than they like to imagine it already is. They say, there will be all those sales tax revenues from when Broadway Plaza adds those 230,000 square feet!

Meanwhile, these business and city leaders come off as tone deaf to the fact that a lot of people who actually live in Walnut Creek are getting a bit fed up with all the traffic and hassle and rightly question whether greed and crass commercialism have replaced any sense of true culture or community spirit in the civic ethos. Wow, has the greedy small-town mogul Mr. Potter of It's a Wonderful Life come to represent Walnut Creek's moral and cultural compass? Has he been the guiding spirit all along? One has to wonder when a spokesperson for Broadway Plaza described this shopping mall, with many of the same generic shops you find at shopping malls all around the country, as the "heart of Walnut Creek." 

Well, apparently there is more irksome news, according to the Times: there have been fewer spaces at the city’s garages and lots over the past year -- no kidding! -- apparently because of what apparently is the city’s not-so-well-timed decision – with all this Broadway Plaza and other downtown construction coming to fruition -- to raise meter rates and increase enforcement hours. Interesting planning choices among city leaders. For so long the city was urging us, nagging us, to give up parking on the street and park in city garages. There is parking there, they proclaimed and proclaimed. 

No, there isn't. There really isn't. 
Parking supply will be tight, and “anecdotally,” the Walnut Creek Downtown association has heard that business is down over the past year. 

Even more reason to shop on cyber Monday!

Medical Center diaries: Once upon a time when we liked O.J.

Once upon a time, O.J. Simpson was a handsome, engaging football star, poised to become a leading man of TV and film.

To gain some more acting experience, Simpson, fresh off his Heisman Trophy win and apparently still a USC Trojan, guest-starred in the series premiere of Medical Center on September 24, 1969. In the episode, "The Last 10 Yards," played  -- what else? -- a football star but with serious health problems at the UCLA-type school where dashing surgeon Dr. Joe Gannon is also head of student health and team doctor.

True to Medical Center offering a showcase for future A-listers, the episode also guest starred Cicely Tyson as Simpson's wife and Edward Asner at Simpson's coach. A few years later, Tyson was nominated for an Academy Award and would win or be nominated for numerous Emmys. At one point in the episode, she has a dramatic scene where she rails against the white establishment of coaches, college football and fans who want to exploit her husband and risk his health so he'll keep playing: "You did it to him, you honkeys! You’re the ones with the money, you held it out in front of him, just outside of his hands. You let him kill himself for it!"

And, of course, Asner: America fell in love with him as newsman Lou Grant, the grouchy boss of Mary Tyler Moore in her classic sitcom, and the eponymous hero of the journalism drama Lou Grant.

As for Simpson? Well, he never became the next Sidney Poitier or even Billy Dee Williams. He did some more acting in supporting roles in movies in the 1970s, showed off a goofy side in the Naked Gun comedy trilogy, and became a Monday Night Football commentator and pitchman for Hertz rental car company among others.

In 1994, he filmed a two-hour TV pilot, Frogman, in which he played the leader of a group of former U.S. Navy Seals. But the pilot never aired because Simpson was arrested for you-know-what in June 1994.

Warner Archive has so far made available five seasons of “Medical Center" via streaming, as well as thousands of rare, classic and other hard-to-find TV shows and classic films from the 1930s onward.