Jack Klugman's last great role:
Livia Soprano


It was sad to hear of Jack Klugman's passing on Christmas Eve. If you grew up watching Australian television during the '7os and into the '80s, Klugman was hard to miss. For starters, he was one of the male leads in the television adaptation of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple. He played the unkempt sportswriter  Oscar Madison – the role Walter Matthau played in the film.

Opening sequence to
The Odd Couple. Note Don Pardo's narration

Klugman had portrayed this character on stage in the play, and so was perfect on the telly. And it was a successful series – the first, if I'm not mistaken, of Garry K. Marshall's adaptations of a successful film for the small screen. Marshall went on to adapt American Graffiti as Happy Days , and you did occasionally see a cross-over of actors. For example, Murray the Cop from Odd Couple was played by Al Molinaro, who'd go on to play Al Delvecchio, proprietor of hamburger joint Al's in Happy Days. (It was originally 'Arnold's', run by Pat Morita's Arnold character; how and why it changed name and hands is, like the disappearance of Richie Cunningham's brother Chuck after initial seasons, an unexplained mystery. But I digress…)

Klugman's other big television success was Quincy, ME (or just 'Quincy'), in which he played a county medical examiner who solved crimes from the clues left by dead bodies. Often, Dr Quincy was voicing the unpopular opinion and the more difficult course of action; when simply signing the death certificate would have been the easy way to close a case, he went the distance - looking into microscopes longer, following up hunches, ordering more tests. Kind of like a cross between Gregory House an Sherlock Holmes. (Not the Silurian Madame Vastra 'Veiled Detective' Sherlock Holmes from the Doctor Who Christmas special, mind.)

Quincy ran for more seasons than The Odd Couple and proved to be of great import: in an age before determining just how much spunk had gushed all over a crime scene, courtesy of the blue light, forensic investigation was a novel twist to both cop shows and medical dramas, and Quincy was special because of it. Often, it delivered commentary about society in the process of solving crimes. There's an episode dedicated to hate crimes of deranged juvenile delinquents, driven mad by horribly Satanic hard rock.

There's another episode that involves a micro engineered poisoned pellet being injected into Quincy's leg via a high-tech umbrella - clearly inspired by the KGB's 1978 assassination of Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov after he defected to the West and undertook sustained ridicule of the Bulgarian regime. "Cut me. I want you to cut me!" a disoriented, dying Quincy demands of his colleague, hoping the offending pellet will be detected and removed. (Other stuff happened in that episode, but for some reason that's the line seared into my brain some 20 years down the track.)

The Quincy character seemed to be pitched younger and sexier than Klugman, and creators claim there was an element of making him what would have been a 'swinging doctor' had he been dealing with living patients, rather than corpses. He lives on a boat, he flirts with all the women, and the 'sexy swingin' saxes' motif that runs through the theme music all lean towards a sex/death element. It's one that still turns up in forensic pathology crime shows (see Britain's Silent Witness, for example; although its theme music is all classical religious choir denial, of course).

That Quincy is, to a degree, playing it for laughs is evident in that opening sequence: one of the bodies he's investigating by looking at it intently while he prods with his fingers turns out, through a classic 'reveal' gag, to be a fully living, bikini-clad babe, with whom he's sharing a drink on his boat. Note, as you watch it, the 'call and response' of the music: the first phrase is on the beat, almost (for a lush, '70s TV-theme arrangement) militaristic in its delivery, because, after all, it is a cop show at its central core. But then the 'sexy swingin' saxes' motif responds - slurred notes, languid, off the beat. And it's total jazz soloing when the bikini babe is revealed. See for yourself:

Quincy, ME opening sequence.

Klugman's voice had a distinctive guttural timbre throughout his career. Turns out he suffered from throat cancer and as a result of either this, or treatment of it, he lost his voice and had to 're-learn' to talk. Interestingly, this happened in 1980 - some three years before Quincy came to an end. Did he learn quickly? Was there a sabbatical between seasons during which he could be treated?

In addition to Quincy and Oscar Madison, E!Online goes on to list other essential roles, such as Juror #5 in 12 Angry Men:

Klugman as Juror #5 in
12 Angry Men

And of course, his clutch of appearances in the original incarnation of The Twilight Zone:


'In Praise of Pip', Season 5, Episode 1, The Twilight Zone

It's disappointing that none of the obituaries I've read have acknowledged that other great role Jack Klugman nailed, and I must admit, I'd all but forgotten it. Yet somehow I found myself re-watching episodes of The Sopranos shortly after Klugman died, only to discover his brilliant portrayal of Tony Soprano's narcissistic and unfeeling mother, the ever-scheming matriarch Livia.




Before I finish, I'm going to recommend you locate episodes of Quincy. Whole seasons of them. So then you can play the Quincy Drinking Game I stumbled onto on the Internet Movie Database:


  • Take a sip every time Quincy cries about "bureaucracy".
  • Take a sip whenever Quincy asks Sam to get results back to him right away.
  • Take a sip every time Quincy is flirting with a chick way too young and attractive to be interested in a guy like Quincy.
  • Take a shot whenever Quincy gets outraged and starts yelling. Make it a double if Quincy pounds his fist against a desk.
  • Take a shot at the point in every episode when Asten is disbelieving of Quincy's theory about the death, and urges him to just sign the death certificate.
  • Take a shot whenever Sam gives Quincy some crucial information, and Quincy hurriedly runs out of the room and grabs his jacket.
  • Take another shot at the point in every episode where Asten finally realizes that Quincy was right all along and comes around to his side.
  • Take a shot every time Monahan yells something to the effect of "Dammit Quincy, stay outta this!"
  • Take a shot every time they do a camera shot of Quincy's giant black coroner's station wagon.
  • Take a shot whenever Danny makes a bad joke.
  • Take a shot when Quincy criticizes another coroner for not doing a thorough investigation.
  • Chug your drink when Quincy suggests digging up a body.
  • Chug your drink if Quincy is testifying in front of a committee.
  • Chug your drink when Quincy finally declares "It was murrrrrder, Sam!"


Radio Satire

Early last week it was announced that Aussie television weatherman (and spouse of Miss Helena, former host of kids show Romper Room and fellow long-term employee of the 7 Network) Mike Bailey was giving up his meteorological map-poking prognostications in favour of politics. The course of action was obvious: Bailey had to be subjected to a political interview, one where his answers consisted entirely of weatherman jargon. All in the name of satire, of course. James Carleton agreed, and had this conversation with the man, as broadcast on ABC Radio National Breakfast (hosted by Fran Kelly).

I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with James previously. Just before the NSW state election, when Labor politicians were being likened to The Sopranos on account a’ their Eye-talian names. This is what we came up with.


“Ah, well, I wanted to get into Program Planning, but unfortunately, I have a degree.” - John Cleese, in Monty Python’s Flying Circus


My mate Simon Coates (Coatsie) sent me this excellent caricature out of the blue, at the beginning of the week that Channel 9 decided, unannounced, to piss its loyal viewers off yet again by playing ‘hide the decent program’. Bastards.

Here’s a letter I didn’t write about it (I don’t quite agree with Guy Fawkes’s opinion of Comedy Inc The Late Shift;, and I certainly have more respect for Albert Watson Newton than either Channel Nine or Guy Fawkes):

Channel Nine Complaints
C/o The Programming Department
Channel Nine
PO Box 27
Willoughby, NSW 2068

Well, congratulations Channel Nine programmers!

You have done it again. Duped us all. Like an Orwellian plot device you have had us sit up to all-hours to view the only decent American drama series currently first-time-screening on Australian free-to-air television.

Again I sat, like thousands of other viewers, ready for bed but eager the see the latest episode of The Sopranos. It was difficult enough having to endure the tail-end of your previous program eating into the advertised timeslot, with it’s boorish, greedy, conniving Americans sitting around a fire on a beach like de-humanised, slack-jawed Pavlov’s Dogs. Who was voted off? The suspense was killing me! Such an important decision: should I go to the toilet, or make a cup of tea.

Fortunately enough, the tissue-thin-tension was drawn out like a victim of the Spanish Inquisition’s entrails. Long enough for me to perform both evening tasks, and in terms of being entertaining, as equally revolting as said torture. What’s more, I had adequate time to go about my business AND pack the dishwasher.

There I was, preparing a nice hot cup of tea; only to hear a station identification with the crisp timbre of your announcer’s voice telling me The Sopranos had been moved to Monday night.

Well, from here on in my hatred of you for your airing of Quizzmania has become a mere triviality. I felt like howling obscenities at the top of my lungs into the cavernous much-seen-but-rarely-enjoyed cleavage of Catriona Rowntree.

What a low act. In terms of programming, not since the stunt you pulled in late 2002, when you realised The Sopranos would rate too well for the non-ratings period timeslot, and, unadvertised, you screened the previous season’s first episode instead, have you dragged your ethics as low as a snake’s cloaca. On that occasion you had the gall to attempt to pass that off as an ‘encore presentation’. On this instance you have perpetrated such an act of disrespect towards your viewers there is no other way to interpret this as anything more than an insult to our collective intelligence.

Instead, in its place, we the viewing public were treated to an episode of The Late Shift (surely a silent ‘F’ in there applies), dumbed-down sketch ‘comedy’ unworthy of the likes of your Channel’s previous triumphs: Who Wants to Be A Human Clay Pigeon, Funniest RPA Proctological Home Insertions and 20 to 01 Reason’s Why Bert Left Ten To Host a Rubbish Game Show. [1]

(Or something. I tend to vague-out with this tripe, and it all bleeds together after a while).

There are few television shows which make the likes of Summer Bay’s sun-stroked mental pygmies, Toady and his suburbanite gastropods, or the even your very-own animated, glossy R.M. Williams brochure McClowns Daughters look good. However you manage to maintain just such a level of mediocrity with every screening of this ‘fecal-gem’. If it’s a matter of maintaining your quota of Australian content, why not fill a house with the dregs of Australia’s pick-up-joints and suburban night clubs and hope they’re naïve, vulgar and oafish enough to engage in sexual congress under the lights of the night vision cameras?

Oh, wait, of course.

Channel Nine has in the past excelled at being the worst example of commercial television professionally appealing to the lowest common denominator in Australia. Without you good people (cough) raising the bar (or in this case the toilet seat) we probably wouldn’t have the likes of Big Brother gracing our TV screens and titillating our great unwashed.

Even Kerry Packer’s pulling Doug Mulray, halfway through his Naughtiest Home Videos was justifiable. It was typically (of Mulray) off-colour, it drew a young demographic after its parent program, and well, frankly, Packer was the boss. He owned the station. He could play Wings 24-7 if the mood struck him so.

As your morning program TODAY flounders in the ratings-race, beaten (nay, bludgeoned) by a show hosted by a gravel voiced pontificating bald geek with the charisma of a parking station attendant, and a doltish tuckshop lady-esque female presenter, (the hapless fall-gal of his fatigued japes), doubtless tomorrow morning your ‘Entertainment’ presenter Richard Wilkins (nee ‘Wilde’) will smugly give us through his surgically enhanced face (no doubt made up of the left-over pieces of Tracy Grimshaw’s after she had an airline inflatable raft inserted into her lips) the spurious news that your channel has again won the ratings in this timeslot.

What pap. Who does this research? The North Korean Government? I don’t know who the “Nielsen”, of the “Nielsen” ratings is. Leslie Nielsen, perhaps? Or the same trained budgerigar that picks tomorrow’s star signs in the Daily Telegraph?

A plague on your house, and a pox on your genitals. May the McGuire era be as conversely short-lived as the ability of this vile and pernicious man’s capacity to network his way to the top of this country’s wealthiest and most influential people’s rectums.

Forget The Footy Show; surely Let’s Go Caving is his calling.

There may well be nothing on the other side, but I feel fairly confident in saying The Goanna is rolling in his grave like a rotisserie chicken with Parkinson’s Disease, vacillating in distress whilst the flagship of his media empire is piloted towards the rocky coast of the public opinion by pink be-shirted yuppies (with matching tie combos), asleep at the wheel as to how the public views their service, unless we of course are talking about the legions of self medicating bogans adhered to their stained couches, remotes in hands, Orchy-bottles-with-nylex-hoses to their lips and mullets plastered to their napes.

Again, thanks Channel Nine; you have plumbed the depths of disrespect not seen since somebody attached a microphone to Ray Martin and released his 12-watt intellect into the televisual landscape. Only Kerry-Anne’s flat double-A’s can eclipse that feat, and I’m not talking about her cup size.

How depressing that these people typify your organisation. A man with a hairstyle like a lacquered croissant, labouring under the misconception he’s “making a difference”, but in reality is as transparently dense as a butcher’s stool on Boxing Day. Therefore appropriately a meat puppet whose ‘groundbreaking exposés’ have all the intellectual and cultural-nutritional value of air. And similarly, whilst on the subject, with KAK; you can feel your IQ diminish as you view her inane, banal and ultimately frustrating-to-the-point-of-distressing dip-shittery and ‘info-tainment-ercial’ programming.

Frankly, it’s like eating a farted-on meringue: sugary, awful, and indistinct – save for the distinct flavour of crap.

Yes, I may well be a crack-pot and a bored vulgarian, and there is patently too much time on my hands. But I’d hate to see the day where I don’t rail against the likes of organisations like yours who take their patrons for granted and imagine they can tell everyone what to think and what to enjoy without some reaction. I feel confident this letter will either line the bottom of the Security Guard Dog’s shit-box, be unceremoniously filed under “B” for “Bin”, or may even manage to make the prestigious “Kook of the Week” feature spot on the lunchroom corkboard.

It will doubtless fall on deaf ears and serve only to vent my spleen and amuse my friends, those of whom take the time to read it. But hopefully someone will take some little glimmer of thought enough away from it, and switch off the television to pop on a good record, or perhaps open a good book, or maybe, just maybe, talk to their wife, husband, or child.

Or even, at a long-shot, just enjoy the silence.


Wait! Did you hear that?


IS that the sound of the late Mr Packer’s chagrin on the wind..?

No, I’m sorry. It’s merely the sweet sound of Jessica Rowe laughing like a hyena with its testes caught in the Channel Nine Cafeteria insinkerator. I can hear it all the fucking way from Willoughby.

At least someone’s getting a kick out of it.


The Viewer’s Guy Fawkes [2]

(NB: My apologies for using the terms “entertainment” and “Richard Wilkins” in the same sentence. I might be pretty angry but there’s really no excuse for sinking that low.)

  1. (The answer is of course gambling debts)

  2. Please don’t interpret this as a threat to blow up your television station. In this post 9-11, Bali and London Tube world, bombs are no joke, but I would never waste good fertilizer on the likes of your organization. The chooks’ arses would never forgive me.