Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rant #421: The Green Hornet Is Back

As a kid, I loved comic books. I collected all the latest DC and Marvel titles, starting when they were 10 cents apiece, and through the 1960s, that was my collecting passion.

In 1966, ABC premiered "Batman", and along with Superman reruns on local Channel 11, I was in my element watching these shows, as they brought to the screen the comic book superheroes I had been reading about with such a voracious attitude.

In 1967, ABC, basking in the success they had with Batman, tried to duplicate it with "The Green Hornet." It was put out by the same production company, was highly promoted, and I am sure ABC thought that lightning could strike twice with this series.

It failed miserably.

However, even though I didn't know the Hornet and his valet and sidekick, Kato, from comic books, I did know the name. The Hornet was created in the 1930s for radio as the then up to date reappearance of a modern, more sophisticated Lone Ranger (and yes, Kato was the modern Tonto and the Black Beauty was the modern Silver ... well, I think you get it). In fact, Britt Reid, the Hornet's alter ego, was created as a relative of John Reid, the Lone Ranger himself.

Anyway, I loved the show. I loved the theme song (a modern take on "Flight of the Bumblebee" by Al Hirt), and I loved the whole concept.

It was done straighter than the "Batman" show, with few laughs, fewer weird camera angles, and fewer memorable villains (meaning none).

It was so different than "Batman" was, that I think it turned off the "Batman"-loving audience.

Me, having read the comic books, I knew that the Batman on TV and the Batman in the comic books were quite different. The one on TV was melodramatic and comedic, while the one in the comics was basically melodramatic and serious.

So I was prepared for the Hornet, but after 26 episodes, few others were, and the show went into oblivion. Like the "Batman" TV show, it is in a DVD black hole, as a prolonged lawsuit is keeping both shows from appearing on legitimate DVDs.

Back to the show ...

Van Williams, the Hornet on the TV show, had a sidekick, Kato, played by Bruce Lee, who went onto bigger and better things after the show.

As Kato, he really had to hold back on his martial arts skills, showing them off a few times each episode but not showing them off to the fullest extent that he could.

But ABC knew they had something with Lee. They cast him in "Longstreet," a show about a blind lawyer which starred James Franciscus. That series also didn't last long, and Lee had some bit roles in a few movies.

But during this time, his interest in the martial arts continued to heighten, and he had an idea for a TV series melding his love of the martial arts with a message--of peace, love and harmony.

That show was "Kung Fu." ABC was a little nervous about having a show with an Asian lead, and the lead role eventually went to David Carradine, who, ironically, was a martial arts pupil of Lee.

Lee was discouraged, went to Hong Kong to make several low-budget martial arts flicks, and became a worldwide sensation when these movies made millions of dollars.

But his life was cut short due to cocaine abuse, and well, the rest is history.

Lee, and Williams, live on in their roles in "The Green Hornet," and today, SyFy channel is running the 26 episodes throughout the day to commemorate the Friday opening of "The Green Hornet" feature film, with Seth Rogen in the tile role.

I don't know about the new movie, but I can tell you about the TV show.

Give the show a chance. Remember, it is not "Batman," but it is a straight-forward TV adaptation of the character, which started out in radio, to the small screen.

Williams basically deadpans it, as does Lee, but watch for the brief fighting scenes. You will actually see Lee completely holding back on his kicks and punches, but it is fun to watch nonetheless.

Back in 1967, we weren't really aware of the type of martial arts that Lee was displaying in a limited way on this show. It was so new that it was truly fascinating to watch, a few years before the Kung-Fu craze filled every movie house worth its salt with cheapo fight flicks that made millions.

And yes, the show is a lot of fun, even though it rarely cracks a smile.

By the way, not included in the 26 episodes being shown are the two "Batman" episodes where Williams and Lee made guest appearances. Those shows are as light as air, but Williams and Lee continue to deadpan it, in deference to Adam West (Batman) and Burt Ward (Robin), who do their usual comedic assault on the Dynamic Duo.

Anyway, watch the 26 "Green Hornet" episodes; you will not be disappointed.

I know that I wasn't more than 40 years ago when these shows were new, and I wasn't when I watched them as an adult years later.

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