Thursday, July 30, 2015

It Wasn't Always Danny

When the sitcom It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia premiered, there were only four main stars. Relatively unknown at the time, they didn't actually set the ratings on fire. FX gave the show an ultimatum; either bring in a big name or get canceled. The crew reluctantly sought someone who would fit in with their crude, politically incorrect style of humor.

They found the perfect candidate in Danny Devito. It's not hard to think of Danny as crude and boorish, yet lovable. Even when he's rolling in the gutter, it's still hard to dislike him. It was an excellent decision; the ratings soared and the gang just clicked. It would be the start of a hilarious run.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Don't Squeeze the Charmin!

For readers of a certain age, hearing the name "Mr. Whipple" brings back memories of a harried store manager accosting customers who dared squeeze the rolls of Charmin toilet paper on his shelves. The paper was so soft and comfortable, squeezing a roll was irresistible. Even he would surreptitiously give into temptation and give it a squeeze.

Mr. Whipple's portayer, Dick Wilson, became ingrained in American culture, despite the fact that he was born in the United Kingdom and grew up in Canada. Mr. Wilson had found marginal success in film and television, often playing a humorous drunk. (His biggest drunken role was a recurring one in Bewitched.) In 1964, he began his run as the store manager Mr. Whipple, which gave him his biggest exposure and pay checks. He would play the character continuously for over twenty years. Even after he retired, he would often get called back for various Charmin promotions. When he passed away in 2007, Charmin paid tribute to its beloved spokesman in a series of commercials that resurrected his classic advertisements.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

NBC Hits a New Low: Mr. Smith

NBC had really sunk low in the early 1980's. The depths it had sunk to were apparent in 1983 when it greenlit a sitcom about a smart orangutan who was whisked to Washington D.C. to secretly advise the government.

The network had high hopes for the show, which starred the orangutan who had appeared with Clint Eastwood in his 1970's ape pictures. They even licensed toys, games and other merchandise with their new "star."

Mr. Smith made nobody laugh and was quickly canceled along with 7 other shows. It was a veritable bloodbath, but help was on the way when Family Ties gained traction and The Cosby Show was picked up from ABC. This new low would soon become an all-time high.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Huell Howser on "The Simpsons"

One of Matt Groening's favorite television shows is California's Gold, a show hosted by the genial Huell Howser. As a result, he knew he just had to include a segment featuring a spoof of the show on an episode of The Simpsons.

He did just that, when "Howell Huser" arrives in Springfield, only to be conned by Bart and Milhouse. He then proceeds to bad mouth the town, causing tourism to drop.

Was Huell offended? Not at all. He relished the parody and offered to provide his very own voice if it were ever needed. Mr. Groening took him up on the offer.

Huell provided his own voice to play himself as a host of a Food Network-style television show. It was a dream come true for both Huell and Matt.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

TV Quote Weekends

"He's all lip and let's have a look at your knockers, that snooty one's all mouth and trousers, and as for her, she's just dead common."

Saturday, July 25, 2015

TV Quote Weekends

"From now on, the baby sleeps in the crib."

"Iron helps us play!


"Hello Joe!"

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Highest Rated Soap Opera Episode of All Time

The highest rated soap opera episode ever was a highly anticipated wedding between General Hospital's mega couple Luke and Laura, played by Anthony Geary and Genie Francis. 30 million viewers- a staggering total for daytime- viewed the wedding, which was attended by Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor, who played villainess Helena Cassidine. The mega event took place on November 17, 1981 during sweeps month, of course.

This week, Anthony Geary said goodbye to the soap after a phenomenal run.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Battle of the Network Stars

Long before they could embarrass themselves on reality television, television actors could embarrass themselves by competing in a network sporting competition. On ABC's Battle of the Network Stars, celebrities from the three major networks would compete against each other for a $20,000 prize for each member of the winning team.

The proceedings were hosted by Howard Cosell himself, who lent undeserved gravitas to the event.

The biggest attraction appeared to be the opportunity to see the celebrities getting soaked in various states of undress.

The advent of the fourth major network, coupled with Howard Cosell's retirement marked the end of this Battle. No doubt the larger pay checks commanded by the network stars also contributed to the demise of the show as well. After all, most of the stars would prefer a guaranteed payout these days.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

TV Live!

Practically all television was broadcast live in the early days. Much of it originated from New York. After television began recording programs for later broadcast, production shifted to Los Angeles and live productions became a thing of the past.

In the 1990's, however, the television networks saw live broadcasts as a way to inject interest in shows that were falling in the ratings or get bigger ratings for successful shows. Fox chose to air live episodes of its underrated series Roc, which got a boost from the fact that its cast was used to performing in front of live audiences on Broadway.

ABC saw a ratings bump from doing live episodes of The Drew Carey Show. Taking advantage of its cast's standup and improv experience, the live episodes brought larger audiences to the show.

No network, however, has gotten as much mileage out of live stunt broadcasts as NBC. The network has gone to that well time and time again, using the gimmick on ER:

The West Wing:

And most recently 30 Rock:

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Ozzie Nelson Formula

Ozzie Nelson may not have intended to create a teen sensation with his son, Ricky, but that's indeed what happened. Ricky began performing on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and became a sensation, starting a career in the music business.

The success was not unnoticed. Nobody on The Donna Reed Show was related, but that didn't stop them from trying to replicate Ozzie and Harriet Nelson's success. The show promoted both Shelly Fabares and Paul Peterson as singing stars. In this instance, only Shelly found success, singing the classic "Johnny Angel".

Another envious "celebrity" was Arch Hall, Sr. who would do virtually anything to get his son a recording contract. Unable to use a weekly television show to launch his son's career, he instead produced low budget Z-Grade films featuring his son. He never gained the success he had hoped for.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Fake Vintage TV Facts

Fake Vintage TV Facts

Little known fact: Sarah Jessica Parker’s father is Hollywood legend Mr. Ed.

Ricky Ricardo’s original job of drug kingpin was changed to bandleader after objections from the network.

“Bea Arthur” is actually Jack Klugman in drag.

Jack Albertson did not realize his performance in Chico and the Man was being recorded.

Charlotte Rae left The Facts of Life when producers rejected her idea to have Mrs. Garrett hold a key party.

To this day, Maya Angelou is still upset about losing the role of “Aunt Esther” in Sanford & Son to LaWanda Page.

Hugh Beaumont misunderstood his agent when asked if he wanted to be in Leave it to Beaver with Barbara Billingsley.

False rumors of Robert Reed’s sexuality were spread to prevent fans from finding out about his affair with Ann B. Davis

Robert Reed and Ann B. Davis’ love child was introduced onto The Brady Bunch as “Cousin Oliver”.

William Shatner was reunited with a Star Trek castmate years later when he chose one of the tribbles to be his new toupee.

Due to special effects constraints, every murder victim from the first season of Perry Mason had to actually be killed.

The first season of Sex and the City was actually thrown together with unused scripts from the TV classic Mr. Ed.

The Love Boat spinoff Divorce Barge was unsuccessful and mostly forgotten

FCC regulations required that Charo be given a guest starring role in every TV show produced in the 1970′s.

In the original Petticoat Junction pilot, the Shady Rest hotel was a bordello and Kate’s “daughters” were her “girls”

Sarah Jessica Parker’s first television role was on Little House on the Prairie, playing a horse.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Rest in Peace, Alex Rocco

Veteran character actor Alex Rocco has passed away at age 79. Mr. Rocco played a variety of roles in both film and television and is probably best known for his role in arguably the greatest film of all time- The Godfather. Mr. Rocco played the casino boss Moe Greene who eventually gets taken out by a bullet that gets shot through his glasses.

It was on television, however, where Mr. Rocco found the bulk of his work. Cast as characters who were typically fast talking and possibly con artists, Alex found consistent work throughout the 1970's on virtually every cop show on the air, including Barnaby Jones, Baretta, Rockford Files and many others. No matter the role, he always stuck out, becoming a 'that guy' who people enjoyed watching even if they couldn't remember his name.

His prolific catalog of work continued through the 1980's. On the Facts of Life, he played Jo's father, who often caused problems for her as she tried to distance herself from her rough and tumble past.

Currently, Alex Rocco provided the voice of Roger Myers, Jr. Heir to the Itchy and Scratchy empire on The Simpsons. His father created the violent cat and mouse team and left the business to his son, who manages both the business and creative sides of the company. A caricature of self involved producers, the character was excellently performed by Mr. Rocco.

Thank you, Mr. Rocco, for providing the world with hours of entertainment. Certainly future generations will be enjoying your work for years to come.

TV Quote Weekends

"Illusions, Michael. A trick is something a whore does for money."

Saturday, July 18, 2015

TV Quote Weekends

"See, this is what the holidays are all about. Three buddies sitting around chewing gum."

Friday, July 17, 2015

Television History: ABC Presents "Disneyland"

In the early days of television, the movie studios saw TV as an enemy. At that time, the networks had to produce their own programming because the established movie studios wouldn't do it for them.

ABC, the weakest of the big three at the time, aggressively sought to partner with a movie studio. It would put them on the map and signal to the world that the network meant business. Unfortunately, there weren't any takers- until Walt Disney approached them with a proposition; invest in his "crazy" idea called "Disneyland" and he would produce a weekly show for them. They weren't interested in a theme park, but they were willing to invest if Walt created a show for them. The agreement was reached and ABC gained instant credibility. Walt Disney gained a weekly program where he could promote the theme park he was building in Anaheim and money to begin construction.

When it came time to produce the special that would introduce Disneyland, ABC put all hands on deck to figure out how accomplish the Herculean task of covering such a huge event spread out over 160 acres in a working theme park. (Whatever that entailed.) The A-Team was up to the task and requisitioned the miles of cabling, hundreds of cameras and all the various other equipment needed from around the country. The cost would be staggering.

The rewards, however, would be staggering. The also-ran network that had gained a bit of credibility by luring Walt Disney was successful beyond its wildest dreams. The 90 minute live broadcast crushed the competition, attracting a record audience of over 90 million viewers who watched on virtually every television in existence at the time. Neither CBS nor NBC had ever attracted such numbers, even combined. The live special put both Disneyland and ABC on the map. The historic broadcast took place on July 17, 1955- exactly 60 years ago.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Voice for Zapp

Futurama's Zapp Branigan is a cowardly braggart who has somehow become a captain for the DOOP.

Originally, his voice was to be provided by Phil Hartman.

Sadly, Phil was killed by his wife before production on the show began. After the tragedy, voice actor Billy West stepped in, doing a Phil Hartman impersonation as a tribute.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Are You Completely Served?!?

The classic British sitcom Are You Being Served? has been creating laughs for over forty years. Though most of the show's cast has passed away, the laughs they created are still with us. However, up until the mid 1990's, the BBC had lost track of two episodes- the pilot and Top Hat and Tails.

Unbelievably, the pilot became lost when someone at the BBC decided to record over the original master tape. When the show hit the United States in a big way, the BBC decided to dig through every tape library in England to locate the pilot episode. It found a copy that had been recorded by an affiliate. Despite the fact that the episode had been recorded in "BBC Colour", the only copy they found was in black and white. The copy was restored and placed in the rotation on PBS and BBC Gold, a luckily recovered piece of TV history.

In 2009, the BBC ran the pilot through a color recovery process that restored the show's original look.

While looking for the pilot, the BBC realized that it was also missing Top Hat and Tails, an episode that introduced the character of Mr. Harman. Nobody had recorded over this episode; it was merely mislabeled, forgotten and misplaced. This time, the episode was found in full color and was restored along with the other episodes to ensure that it will make viewers laugh for many years to come.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Perry Mason and the Future Megastar

It was impossible to escape Burt Reynolds in the 1970's. Whether he was clowning around with his buddies, creating TV shows or dating hot women, he was at the top of the A-List. In 1962, however, he was paying his dues, taking a minor role on Perry Mason in the episode entitled The Case of the Counterfeit Crank.

Monday, July 13, 2015


The Beatles continue to break records over 50 years after they 'invaded' the shores of the United States to become the greatest rock band. When they authorized production of a cartoon, they made history yet again.

When ABC began production of The Beatles, they became the first "real" people to be the subject of an animated series.

The show aired on ABC's Saturday morning cartoon lineup, with each episode centering on one of the band's hit songs. The band was too busy to participate in the series, so two voice actors were hired to provide their voices.

Paul Frees provided the voices of John and George. A veteran voice actor, Mr. Frees was the voice of Boris Badenov on Rocky & Bullwinkle and the Ghost Host in DISNEYLAND's Haunted Mansion.

Lance Percival provided the voices of Paul and Ringo. Best known in the United Kingdom, Mr. Percival also worked on Yellow Submarine where he provided the voice of Old Fred. (The Fab Four themselves provided their own voices on that project.)

The show's producers took the public persona of each Beatle and exaggerated it, which meant that Ringo was portrayed as a lovable buffoon and John as a sarcastic jokester. It is said that the Beatles themselves were not happy with the show at first, but grew to like it in the later years.

As the band's music grew more complex and psychedelic, it grew harder to make a children's cartoon around it. New episodes stopped being made in 1967 and the show ended its run on ABC in 1969. The show has since aired in syndication, on MTV and on Disney Channel, but has never been made available on DVD.