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Supertrain (pilot)

SupertrainWinfield Root, chairman of the board and founder of Trans-Allied Corporation, announces a bold plan to reinvigorate American passenger rail service with a new breed of train, Supertrain. Running from New York City to Los Angeles in a matter of hours, Supertrain is an atomic-powered steam locomotive with the amenities normally associated with luxury cruises. Root finds little support among his executive board, but the plan will proceed anyway.

Supertrain pulls out of Grand Central Station on its inaugural voyage with a full complement of passengers aboard, among them Michael Post, a man up to his eyeballs in debt to all the wrong people; Cindy Chappell, married to a man who spends the entire trip complaining about her presence (and yet doesn’t want her to leave his sight); Hollywood movie director David Belnik, heading to L.A. with his entourage to begin his next project; and at least one man who is on the train solely for the purpose of killing Michael Post. Winfield Root is aboard too, along with his granddaughter, who is almost disturbingly attracted to a member of Supertrain’s on-board crew.

The dazzling luxuries aboard Supertrain, from its sauna room to its discotheque, become the sites of attempts on Post’s life. When one of those attempts goes awry, resulting in a seemingly random murder of which Post is suspected of being the killer instead of the intended victim, the train is brought to a stop so an FBI agent can be brought aboard. Post pleads innocent to the murder, but confides in the circumstances that have him worried about his continued survival. But he soon discovers that he is no safer on Supertrain with an FBI agent on his tail than he is anywhere else…

teleplay by Earl W. Wallace
story by Donald E. Westlake & Earl W. Wallace
directed by Dan Curtis
music by Bob Cobert

SupertrainCast: Steve Lawrence (Mike Post), Char Fontane (Cindy Chappell), Don Stroud (Jack Fisk), Keenan Wynn (Winfield Root), Deborah Benson (Barbara Root), Ron Masak (Fred), Don Meredith (Rick Prince), Vicki Lawrence (Karen Prince), George Hamilton (David Belnik), Stella Stevens (Lucy), Fred Williamson (Al Roberts), Edward Andrews (Harry Flood), Patrick Collins (David Noonan), Harrison Page (George Boone), Robert Alda (Dr. Lewis), Nita Talbot (Rose Casey), Aarika Wells (Gilda), William Nuckols (Wally), Michael DeLano (Lou Atkins), Charlie Brill (Robert), John Karlen (Quinn), Frank R. Christi (Tony Packoe), H.M. Wynant (Fairmont), Anthony Palmer (T.C. Baker), Howard Honig (Sam Howard), Allen Williams (Riley), Parley Baer (Heaton), Sid Conrad (Whittington), Robert Karnes (Martin), Cameron Young (Fenner), Sylvester Words (Porter), Orin Cannon (Stationmaster), Chuck Mitchell (Big Ed), Bert Conway (Workman)

SupertrainNotes: Intended to be a sort of futuristic version of The Love Boat, Supertrain was a dazzlingly expensive disaster for NBC. It was initially produced, and its pilot directed, by Dan Curtis, producer and director of such TV cult classics as Dark Shadows and the pair of TV movies that led to Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Supertrain’s impressive-for-the-time miniature model work and its matching full-size “futuristic train” standing sets made it the most expensive television series in history to date, but its plunging post-pilot-movie ratings saw NBC pulling the plug after multiple attempts to retool and reschedule. This by itself would’ve simply been expensive, but when paired with the extravagant money that NBC put on the table for the U.S. broadcast rights to the 1980 Summer Olympics (a cost it then had to eat when the United States boycotted the Olympics, held that year in Moscow), it nearly bankrupted the network. SupertrainHad Supertrain run to a full season, the expense involved in the sets and miniatures would have been amortized over the budgets of 20-odd episodes. As it is, the show lasted ten hours, meaning that fully half a million dollars of each episode’s budget was spent on those sets and effects. The custom model footage shows Supertrain running on wider-gauge tracks than a standard railroad, though many of the railroad POV shots were obviously filmed on a normal-gauge railroad. Additionally, though the “running firefight atop the cars of a moving train” is a staple of American TV and cinema, the tornado-speed movement of Supertrain should make such a scenario physically impossible (unless, of course, the script calls for it). Supertrain!

LogBook entry by Earl Green

And A Cup Of Kindness Too

SupertrainAt Grand Central Station, a man collapses on the floor and no one stops to help him – no one, that is, until already-distracted Jack Nordoff helps him up. Jack is not there to catch a train, but to see off his soon-to-be-ex-wife before the divorce proceedings heat up. The man Jack helped, Waldo Chase, cracks a joke about needing a hit man instead of a lawyer, and then they part ways…until Jack calls his wife on the train, and discovers that Chase is also on the train, having followed here. Chase says he owes Jack a favor, and always pays his debts…and that all Jack’s troubles will soon be over. Jack now has to find a way to beat Supertrain to its Chicago stop to try to save his wife’s life…but who can outrun Supertrain?

written by Shimon Wincelberg
directed by Rod Amateau
music by Bob Cobert

SupertrainCast: Edward Andrews (Harry Flood), Patrick Collins (David Noonan), Harrison Page (George Boone), Robert Alda (Dr. Lewis), Nita Talbot (Rose Casey), Aarika Wells (Gilda), William Nuckols (Wally), Michael DeLano (Lou Atkins), Charlie Brill (Robert), Dick Van Dyke (Waldo Chase), Larry Linville (Jack Nordoff), Barbara Rhoades (Myra Nordoff), Keith Mitchell (Rodney), Rachel Jacobs (Daphne), Byron Morrow (Farrell), Lou Krugman (Cabbie), Valorie Armstrong (Airline Employee), Al Hansen (Motor Cop), Anthony Palmer (T.C. Baker), Cameron Young (Fenner), Frank McCarthy (Detective), Jack O’Leary (Salesman), Kenneth White (Tex), Casey Brown (Stewardess), Fritz Reed (The Maitre’d), Lee Stein (Young Man), Bill Smillie (Chicago Cabby), Mary Ellen O’Neill (Cleaning Lady), Don Delaney (Waiter), Alfred Mariorenzi (Desk Sergeant)

SupertrainNotes: The second episode is a marked improvement over the first, if only for the (guest) star power on display, and the fact that it’s only an hour long. Dick Van Dyke needed no introduction to TV audiences, having starred in his own sitcom, The Dick Van Dyke show, from 1961 through 1966. After several years of steady work, most recently (at the time) a stint on the Carol Burnett Show, he was exploring both comedic and dramatic guest roles in prime time, and this one was distinctly unnerving. Opposite Van Dyke is Larry Linville (1939-2000), one of the founding cast members of the long-running sitcom M*A*S*H, on which he played the uptight Major Frank Burns from 1972 through 1977. The episode’s title comes from the Anglicized lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne”. Supertrain!

LogBook entry by Earl Green

The Queen And The Improbable Knight

SupertrainTravel reporter Barney Sweet lands an assignment to ride Supertrain and tell his readers what he thinks of the service, but he’s less thrilled to find an old rival boarding at the same time. Running into a woman named Ali lifts Barney’s spirits, but the moment she indicates that she’s equally interested in him, Barney becomes embroiled in a series of strange incidents, including what he’s certain is a murder, though he’s unable to prove anything to the crew of Supertrain. Barney’s rival reporter, Flex, discovers that Ali is a distantly-related royal heiress to the throne of a foreign country, and the events Barney has witnessed are a build-up to an assassination attempt.

written by Brad Radnitz
directed by Charles Dubin
music by Bob Cobert

SupertrainCast: Edward Andrews (Harry Flood), Patrick Collins (David Noonan), Harrison Page (George Boone), Robert Alda (Dr. Lewis), Nita Talbot (Rose Casey), Aarika Wells (Gilda), William Nuckols (Wally), Michael DeLano (Lou Atkins), Charlie Brill (Robert), Paul Sand (Barney Sweet), Mary Louise Weller (Ali), Michael V. Gazzo (Menkton), Nehemiah Persoff (Max), Steven Franken (Flex), Fred Sadoff (Royal Guard), Kenneth Mars (Turley), Alba Francesca (Theresa), Paul Tuerpe (Royal Subject), Shauna Sullivan (Passenger), Annie Starr (Passenger), David Wiley (Passenger)

LogBook entry by Earl Green

Hail To The Chief

SupertrainSupertrain has already hosted royalty, but Harry Flood is especially on edge as he tries to whip his crew into shape ahead of President William Phillips boarding for a cross-country, election-night trip. But despite the presence of the Secret Service, security is still not tight enough – a lookalike swaps places with Phillips, and begins wooing the first lady. After just one night, however, she’s picked up on the different between the man she’s been with and her uptight, always-in-campaign-mode husband. But is she inclined to warn the authorities about what’s happened?

written by Robert I. Holt
directed by Barry Crane
music by Bob Cobert

SupertrainCast: Edward Andrews (Harry Flood), Patrick Collins (David Noonan), Harrison Page (George Boone), Robert Alda (Dr. Lewis), Nita Talbot (Rose Casey), Aarika Wells (Gilda), William Nuckols (Wally), Michael DeLano (Lou Atkins), Charlie Brill (Robert), Loretta Swit (Alice Phillips), Scott Brady (Forbes), Victor Buono (Misto), Roy Thinnes (William Phillips / Eddy Barnes), Billy Barty (Mick), Joe Gieb (Mack), Michael Minor (Passenger), Woody Eney (Passenger), John Shubeck (himself), Kelly Lange (herself), Warren Olney (himself)

SupertrainNotes: Unusually, Supertrain uses real NBC news reporters in a fictional setting, a practice that always raises discussion among employees and management of a news operation. It’s worth noting that Supertrain was the pet project of NBC’s then-president and CEO, Fred Silverman, who likely had the clout to overcome any such objections from within NBC News. Victor Buono (1938-1982) had recently appeared as the recurring villain, Mr. Schubert, on Man From Atlantis, but may still be best known to genre audiences at King Tut, one of the villains who made Batman‘s 1960s TV life difficult. Loretta Swit was yet another M*A*S*H veteran appearing on Supertrain, though here it was a side gig, as she was still playing Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan on that long-running sitcom. Supertrain!

LogBook entry by Earl Green

Superstar

SupertrainMovie producer Jack Hogarth is on his way out – out of business, out of his office, and out of luck. He’s failed to seal the deal for his next film, and the financial backers for the project have called in the chips…including shady organized crime figures who have sent a couple of hit men to “collect”, just as Jack is on the phone with rising star Tammy Tyler, trying to convince her to agree to star in the sinking movie project. Upon learning that Tammy is taking a trip aboard Supertrain, Jack decides that’s where he needs to be too…and his pursuers book a trip as well. Jack has the time it takes for Supertrain to travel from L.A. to New York to convince Tammy to sign up for his movie…and maybe about that long to live if he can’t.

written by Larry Alexander
directed by David Moessinger
music by Bob Cobert

SupertrainCast: Edward Andrews (Harry Flood), Patrick Collins (David Noonan), Harrison Page (George Boone), Robert Alda (Dr. Lewis), Nita Talbot (Rose Casey), Aarika Wells (Gilda), William Nuckols (Wally), Michael DeLano (Lou Atkins), Charlie Brill (Robert), Dennis Dugan (Jack Hogarth), Randee Heller (Tammy Tyler), Sylvia Sidney (Agatha), Noah Hathaway (Kid), Timothy Carey (Anderson), Mills Watson (Clyde), Bo Hopkins (O’Toole)

SupertrainNotes: Noah Hathaway was also, at the time this episode aired, appearing on Battlestar Galactica as Boxey. Dennis Dugan appeared numerous times on Hill Street Blues, Moonlighting, and M*A*S*H, and briefly starred in his own series, Dennis Brockleman, Private Eye, a year before Supertrain premiered. He has since become the director of such movies as Grown Ups, Jack And Jill, and You Don’t Mess With The Zohan. He also directed numerous TV shows in the 1990s, including episodes of NYPD Blue, Picket Fences, and Shasta McNasty. Supertrain!

LogBook entry by Earl Green

Pirouette

SupertrainSupertrain is abuzz with activity and gossip aplenty: millionaire heiress Natalie Smithburne is aboard, with a security detail in tow thanks to rumors of an impending kidnapping attempt. Reba, the caretaker of Natalie’s late father, is also aboard, as is a nosy reporter named Snelling who’s trying to get an exclusive interview with Natalie. The only person who seems completely unaware of Natalie’s presence or the potential danger to her is meek gynecologist Dr. Marshall Fossberg, who can deliver a baby without breaking a sweat but can’t land a date. When the rumored kidnapping attempt finally happens, it’s to Fossberg that Natalie runs for safety…but who is trying to snatch both her and her fortune?

written by Jeff Wilhelm
directed by Barry Crane
music by Bob Cobert

SupertrainCast: Edward Andrews (Harry Flood), Patrick Collins (David Noonan), Harrison Page (George Boone), Robert Alda (Dr. Lewis), Tony Danza (Snelling), Jamie Farr (Peters), James Gregory (Griswald), Bernie Kopell (Marshall), Mako (Kirby), Isabel Sanford (Reba Beeson), Vic Tayback (Tuttle), Joyce DeWitt (Natalie)

Notes: This episode marks a major rethink of the series’ format, with shorter opening titles over a Supertrainmontage of previous episodes’ footage, heavily solarized, and a virtual who’s-who of late ’70s TV stars, including Joyce DeWitt (Three’s Company), Jamie Farr (M*A*S*H), Isobel Sanford (The Jeffersons), Bernie Kopell (The Love Boat) and such future household names as Vic Tayback (Alice), Mako and Tony Danza (Who’s The Boss?). This was only Danza’s second appearance on TV. SupertrainNearly two thirds of the show’s regular cast, many of whom had seldom appeared since the pilot movie, have been jettisoned from the opening credits and from the show itself. Supertrain!

LogBook entry by Earl Green

A Very Formal Heist

SupertrainIt’s Wayne Randall’s first day on the job as the assistant chief conductor aboard Supertrain…but when chief conductor Harry Flood comes down with the mumps and is confined to the isolation room in Dr. Lewis’ on-board clinic, Wayne finds himself in charge of the train. He tries to keep things running smoothly as new Supertrain social director Penny Whitaker puts the finishing touches on a major charity event…but then has to deal with a few minor problems, such as a would-be jewel thief…and an engine meltdown that could turn Supertrain into a fast-moving nuclear bomb with passangers.

teleplay by Jeff Wilhelm
story by Brad Radnitz and Robert Stambler and Jeff Wilhelm
directed by Dennis Donnelly
music by Bob Cobert

SupertrainCast: Edward Andrews (Harry Flood), Ilene Graff (Penny Whitaker), Harrison Page (George Boone), Robert Alda (Dr. Lewis), Joey Aresco (Wayne Randall), Zsa Zsa Gabor (Audrey), Lyle Waggoner (Peter Sebastian), Peter Lawford (Quentin Fuller), Abe Vigoda (Ray Yellburton), Sally Kirkland (Katherine Sully), Ted Gehring (Tex), Cameron Young (Partygoer), Dorothy Dells (Partygoer), Jack Heller (Chef), Gail Landry (Partygoer), Lou Felder (Ice Sculptor), Gordon Connell (Partygoer), Bob Basso (Partygoer), Kate Geer (Partygoer), Brenda King (Partygoer), Deborah Allison (Partygoer), Michael Feffer (Partygoer), Maggie Jean Smith (Mike)

SupertrainNotes: More big changes are afoot in this episode of Supertrain, with the addition of Ilene Graff and Joey Aresco as new regulars, along with a constellation of guest stars including Zsa Zsa Gabor, Lyle Waggoner (Wonder Woman), Peter Lawford (The Thin Man, Ocean’s 11), Abe Vigoda (Barney Miller), and Sally Kirkland. Herman Zimmerman – formerly of Far-Out Space Nuts, and later the architect of the Star Trek spinoffs‘ ship interiors – joins the show as production designer. Supertrain!

LogBook entry by Earl Green

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