A Commentary on the Editing of MFM Episodes on TV LAND
*Updated Dec.2, 2007
During My Favorite Martian’s initial syndication run (which started in the Fall of 1966 through the Spring of 1980), about two minutes of film would routinely be cut from its prints to allow for extra commercial time on local stations. This practice was nothing new. Every other TV sit-com and drama rerunning in the 60s and 70s received identical treatment in terms of having chucks of footage chopped out to make way for extra commercial time. Happily, though, in the case of MFM, during that time, the local stations would occasionally restore the missing footage in the second showing of the episode, only to snip out alternate footage that was seen the first time. Disrupting though this was, the practice at least gave viewers the courtesy of seeing what was missing on the first syndicated rerun. Ultimately though, the prints with the least disruptive cuts would be the ones telecast more regularly, although certain footage in some episodes was never restored during MFM’s syndication years of 1966 to 1980.
Fortunately, due to advances in technology, when Telepictures obtained the rights to sell the series in syndication in 1983, they used a computer process to digitally speed up the episodes; the result being, that the shows could now be aired uncut while still allowing local stations the extra time they required to sell more commercial spots. Objections are sometimes raised that this speeded-up process is very evident in the opening credits and music and, at times, in the dialogue. Nonetheless, it may also be argued that, given the way most TV series are butchered in the editing room when sold into syndication, the sound distortion seems a fair trade-off in exchange for getting the entire episodes intact.
One would have thought that it would be these uncut shows which would turn up on TV LAND but very unfortunately, that was not to be the case. And here again advancing technology is to blame. Nowadays it is possible to insert not only fake dissolve flips from scene to scene with accompanying music, but to insert premature fade outs and to also excise sentences from dialogue with a precision so seamless that is it impossible for viewers to detect any tampering. This is in fact what had happened with My Favorite Martian. And regretfully it must be stated that that the prints which have been shown on TV LAND contain more cuts to the stories than anything ever done to the series during its initial syndication run. In MFM’s case this is a double shame, since the uncut Telepictures episodes must still be available. One would think that TV LAND would have taken advantage of this fact and air those imperceptibly compressed versions, since they meet the corporate requirement of allowing for more commercial sponsor time. Another cable channel, American Life, aired uncut prints from 2004-2007.
The objections to this type of edit tampering are more than mere quibbling. The elimination of some segments result in cutting out not only punch lines, but many small moments which serve to highlight the characterizations. This damage could be mitigated by cutting unnecessary seconds out of visual segments but for some reason, extraneous bits of special effects business, which could easily be dropped, are left intact.
As an example of losing both plot and character elements, consider that in all the years that stations have aired the MFM pilot, the only scenes that the syndicated prints have had cut are those of Mr. Burns trying to call Tim at home and of Mrs. Brown and her nieces going up to wake Tim. So, after the opening credits, the footage goes to the shot of the X-15 being launched and the rest of the story unfolds without interruption. It is a shame to cut any scenes, but at least this abbreviated version preserves every moment of the story after the first meeting of the lead characters.
But the TV LAND version keeps those scenes with Tim’s boss and Mrs. Brown, and instead edits the rest of the pilot show down to the point where even the scene with Martin’s quote, "Pain makes man think, thinking makes men wise, and wisdom makes life endurable." (closing lines from the play Teahouse of the August Moon ) is cut, along with the scene of Tim being confronted in the Colonel’s office. The editing even goes so far as to snip out one line of dialogue during the discussion of revealing the Martian’s identity. (Martin tells Tim that by writing the story, Tim would end up being a one-day wonder "--And you wouldn’t want that, would you-?") That sentence is gone, resulting in a gain of a grand total of two seconds toward slashing the running length of the episode at the expense of a character. In fact, cutting out single sentences within a scene seems to be a common practice of the MFM tampering. Such tactics appear to be a desperate attempt to gain what can only amount to a precious second or two of extra time. If that is the case, then surely two seconds of non-dialogue transitional footage or establishing shots can be found to cut, rather than actors’ performances?
But instead of targeting special effects footage (Do we really need to see the little ancient Egyptian statue sailing all the way to the door to know it flew out?) the cuts have excised significant plot points and characterizations. In the aforementioned case (Now You See It..) the ongoing images of the floating statue are kept, while the lost scene is one where Martin realizes that the missing key to a dispute involves the mark of the Egyptian Sun God, named Ra. In Super--Snooper, they completely cut the scenes at the end of the show where Martin explains the reasons for Mrs. Brown’s loneliness and then speaks to her about changing her choice for a career as a private eye. In The Eternal Triangle, we lose a charming story from Tim where he recounts being in Junior High School and experiencing jealously when he finds that he has a rival for a girl’s affection. Upon investigating his rival, Tim discovered that the interloper lied about his job in a supermarket. So he says, "..I did what any other red-blooded male would do!… I wrote an anonymous letter…" His account gives rise to the plan to investigate Mrs. Brown’s new suitor. But this scene is lost, while a decision was made to leave in a long scene of uninspired levitation shenanigans in the restaurant which could have been removed without damage to the thread of the story. Also gone, in the episode, The Case of the Missing Sleuth, is the exchange between Tim and Martin where it is pointed out that Martians are already perceived as war-like monsters. Tim then tells Martin if he "-ever needs a character reference from a humble human..call me.." and Martin responds with warm gratitude. These repeated types of omissions in numerous episodes diminish the traits of the characters and the skills of the actors.
This same type of decision making accounted for losing some of the funniest moments in the Rx for a Martian episode. (A priceless delivery of the running gag line, "You’ve got me covered!" is lost in a premature fade-out and most of the comic scene in the fluoroscope room is gone.) Yet, the editing keeps an entire scene which just has the camera follow the invisible Martian as he makes his way down a corridor. Parts of this visual sequence could have been dropped without consequence.
The powers-that-be may argue that not every special effects scene can be cut, because the flow of its background music would make such snips obvious. But given such startling insertions of false scene cuts with dubbed music, one would think such a problem could be solved. If not, and the audience does detect the "chop", so be it. At least performances are spared.
But if some editing must occur, then the easiest and most logical scenes to lose would be the tag scenes at the end of some shows if they have no further bearing to the plot. Luckily, this was actually done in the UFO episode TV LAND aired. Arguably one of the best scripts of the first season, viewers did get to see the entire show, except for the very end, where, as Tim is remarking how great a job they did in deceiving the UFO specialists, Martin informs him he must still take the ship up one more time and leaves to do so. In this case, a good editing decision was made.
Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Cutting the tag scene should have been mandatory in the Miss Pringle episode. Sadly, instead, a choice was made to snip out two lines of dialogue in which Martin reveals his Martian name. This comes towards the end of the show when the MC asks Tim ("-Mr.O’Hara") to escort the elderly teacher to the microphone. Martin takes a step over to her instead, but Tim stops him with a grin, reminding him, ".He meant me. I’m O’Hara. You’re not." To which Martin remarks in agreement, "-I’m Exigious Twelve and a Half….but don’t rub it in." In the TV LAND version, this exchange is gone. After the request by the MC is stated, a jump cut is made to where we see Tim escorting Miss Pringle. This loss of the Martian name dialogue could have been avoided by simply cutting out the ending tag scene, which merely shows Martin and Tim reacting to the school paper headline of the teacher being honored.
Admittingly, there were times when the TV LAND cuts were useful. In Rocket to Mars, they thankfully cut pointless footage of dogs on the run, and the episode played better because of it. Also welcome were cuts in My Aching Antennae, Miss Jekell and Hyde, Martin’s Favorite Martian, and The Girl in the Flying Machine, among others. But regrettably, in A Sonata in Mrs. B’s Flat, they did not cut the simply awful trio of the singing ladies. It was a gag which begged to be purged in favor of simply inserting a dissolve flip to Loralee going upstairs, getting the music lotion on her hands and returning. What they did choose to cut was the beginning of the scene with Martin and Tim discussing music with a college professor. The point here being that while the re-editing of MFM for TV LAND has sometimes been done with sensible taste, such examples are often few and far between.
As of May 2005, the 1st and 2nd seasons of My Favorite Martian have become available on DVD. All the episodes are uncut, including the 4 that are in their time-compressed versions on season two. Then in November 2007 the 3rd season became available on DVD from Umbrella Entertainment. In terms of VHS, the 3rd season's 32 color episodes are available uncut on Rhino home video, as are some first and second season shows offered on Columbia House tapes. (click for other home video details.) Still, these facts may hold little comfort for TV LAND viewers who had expected to be able to watch the series in its entirety on television. (American Life Cable Channel had been televising the first and second seasons uncut from 2004-2007.)
But there is an irony here. After all, Telepictures went to the trouble of processing the MFM episodes so that they can be shown in their entirety without taking away extra time for more commercials in a station break. These prints must still exist and it would be thought that TV LAND would run them. It is hard to understand why they did not. But, at least those fans who taped the series during the years 1983-1994 are fortunate to have the shows intact and uncut.
My Favorite Martian is certainly not the only TV series to be treated in this manner. The versions of The Dick Van Dyke Show which have aired on TV LAND also suffer from the indignity of having single lines of dialogue purged from within a scene. So this type of insidious editing is by no means unusual. It is simply sad that, even when it can be avoided, this practice continues to happen.
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