I don't have much luck with ABC's shows. Earlier this year, they canned the well-acted and imaginative "Life on Mars" (which took place in the year 1973 and starred a hunky Irish actor - you can understand why I loved it.) Several years ago, they canceled the Vietnam drama "China Beach" just as I was discovering it, and the series "Home Front", which was about American life after World War 2 ended. And just yesterday, I was thinking about the first time ABC pulled the cancellation rug out from under me. This particular show had swashbuckling action, innocent romance, and cheeky humor. I'm talking about "Tales of the Gold Monkey" which ran for only 21 episodes from 1982 to 1983. And if full episodes ever surface on Hulu or RTV, I'll be the first in line to view them.
"Tales of the Gold Monkey" took place in 1938 in the South Pacific, and revolved around the adventures of a handsome, all-American ex-Flying Tigers pilot named Jake Cutter (played by Stephen Collins in his pre-"Seventh Heaven" days), his one-eyed Jack Russell terrier, Jack (who could bark once for "no" and twice for "yes"), his sidekick and mechanic, Corky (Jeff MacKay), and his love interest, lounge singer Sarah Stickney White, played by an actress named Caitlin O'Heaney. Rounding out the cast of characters was the Reverend Willie Tenboom, who was really a Nazi spy (well, you can't have a series like this without a goosestepper) and Roddy McDowell, playing the owner of the Monkey Bar (known for its golden monkey statue) where this motley group congregates. McDowell's character had the best name of all: Bon Chance Louie. Here's a look at the opening credits:
Much of the adventures revolved around outsmarting bad guys (usually by way of Jake's fists), appeasing the natives, and deciphering codes and riddles to find hidden treasure. There was also the romance between Jake and Sarah, even though I remember Sarah didn't always treat Jake kindly (and she had an annoying, shrilly voice at times.) Here's one particular scene that I remember:
I know what you're thinking: this was a way for ABC to capitalize on the success of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Well, yes and no. The show's creator, Donald P. Bellisario, actually based it on a 1939 movie called "Only Angels Have Wings" and actually tried to get the series commissioned in the late 1970s, but ABC's execs weren't buying it. It was only after the huge success of "Raiders" did they change their minds.
Going on YouTube, I was surprised to see so many clips from such a short show published. And I was also surprised to see a few nasty comments about what a bad series it was. OK, it had its corny moments to be certain, but what TV show in the early 80s didn't? "Tales of the Gold Monkey" was a family friendly show, which is more then I can say for most current prime time programming today. My parents and I loved it, and watched it diligently every week. It was thoroughly entertaining.
One interesting character to note is that of the Japanese princess and series villainess, Koji. She was played by an actress named Marta DuBois and wasn't even Japanese, but Panamanian. That kind of racial casting probably wouldn't happen today. She was also portrayed as a dragon lady-type figure with eyes for Jake, who could give Yoko Ono a run for her money.
My favorite character, however, was the dog.
Sadly, ABC used the ol' lame-o "low ratings" excuse when they canceled it after just one season. But you can see more scenes from the show on YouTube. Fingers crossed that it makes its way to DVD someday.