10 July 2003 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Not as funny as 'The Rag Trade'
'Needles and Pins' is an American sitcom that never aired in Britain, and that's no loss. In the late 1960s and early 70s, I worked for a producer in Britain who occasionally bought syndication rights to U.S. tv shows; consequently, I got to see sample episodes of American programmes which he was considering ... including this one.
'Needles and Pins' took place amid the garment district in Seventh Avenue, New York City. In Britain, there was already a very funny sitcom with a garment industry setting: 'The Rag Trade', which emphasised jokes over plot or character development. 'Needles and Pins' wasn't very funny, because the series' creators were more interested in depicting realistic characters in a plausible workplace. But this show was DULL. We see a few stock shots of Seventh Avenue, but the action takes place almost entirely within a few claustrophobic sets. The characters keep talking about getting the material to the cutters, or getting the samples to the buyers ... but we never SEE the garment industry at work. No textile mills, no steam presses, no sweatshops.
The cast of 'Needles and Pins' included a few veteran character actors: Norman Fell, Bernie Kopell, Milton Selzer, Louis Nye. I'm not a fan of Nye, because I tend to associate him with the simpering 'Hi-ho, Steverino' character he played on Steve Allen's show. Bernie Kopell is an underrated actor, who spent much of his career chasing an easy salary in fluff like 'The Love Boat' instead of stretching his talents. Unfortunately, none of the members of this show's talented cast were given much to do in 'Needles and Pins'. Every so often, the scriptwriters would throw a couple of Yiddish words into the dialogue, in a desperate attempt to convince us that these bland characters onscreen were 'real' people.
I viewed several episodes of 'Needles and Pins' at a screening in London, when the American producer was hoping to persuade a British producer to pick up the foreign syndication rights. Before the screening a press kit was handed out, touting the actress Deirdre Lenihan. In 'Needles and Pins', she played a naive but idealistic young woman who had come to New York City to work in the garment industry, hoping to make it as a fashion designer but determined to learn every aspect of the business. The press kit for this series assured me that Deirdre Lenihan was going to be a big tv star any minute now. I'm still waiting. In 'Needles and Pins' she wore a really awful hairstyle, with her mousy-brown hair cropped extremely short. Apparently this was meant to make her look like a French gamine or something, but it made her look more like one of those French peasant girls who had their heads shaved as punishment for collaborating with the Nazis. Her character in 'Needles and Pins' is supposed to be spunky and determined, but I found her merely annoying.
Now that there are twenty million cable channels, all of them thirsty for content, practically every show in the history of television has been revived for cable syndication ... but not 'Needles and Pins'. There's a reason for that. This show stank.