Thursday, May 26, 2016


When Lorne Michaels started up Saturday Night Live in 1975, he had assumed it would be a stepping stone to bigger and better things. NBC had only given him the time slot because it had been airing reruns of The Tonight Show on Saturday nights and it needed to find something else to show. Johnny Carson had felt that the reruns were cutting into the future syndication value of the show and wanted NBC to show something else. They brought in Lorne and gave him the opportunity to put something together with minimal interference. He put together a show that became an instant sensation- Saturday Night Live.

NBC was thrilled with the show's success, but it had made a glaring error. Unsure of the show's potential, it had only locked in the show's talent for five years. (The standard is usually seven.) The show had made Lorne and his cast household names and they became impatient towards the end, waiting for their contracts to expire. Chevy Chase, who would only agree to sign for one season was the first to leave, quickly taking on huge projects. With none of the original cast onboard with going past five seasons, Lorne Michaels decreed that as far as he was concerned, the fifth season would be the last one. NBC had other plans.


The network hired Jean Doumanian, one of the show's writers, to keep the show going. With no returning talent, she recast the show completely. The new cast would have huge shoes to fill. When the show returned in Fall of 1980, a large audience greeted its return. They were terribly disappointed. It wasn't that viewers wouldn't accept change- the show was just awful. NBC began to think it had made a mistake.


Things came to a head when Charlene Tilton of Dallas fame hosted the show. The infamous "Who Shot J.R.?" storyline had captivated the country. Having one of the young, attractive stars from television's hottest show would certainly bring back viewers. NBC felt certain that this episode could turn the show's fortunes around. It would actually have quite the opposite effect.

The writers decided to have a corny recurring sketch in which it is announced that Charles Rocket, the Weekend Update anchor, was "shot" like J.R. The show wound down to its eventual conclusion with some time to kill at the end. During good nights, Ms. Tilton was asked to stretch things out, so she decided to ask him how he felt like to be shot. His response included an F-Bomb. NBC had toyed with the idea of canceling the show before and this incident was the last straw. Doumanian was dismissed as was Charles Rocket.


Enter Dick Ebersole. He had wanted the producer position when Lorne left the show, but he was passed over for Doumanian. While NBC merely expected him to just wind things down, he sought to convince them that he could fix things if given at least one more season. NBC just wanted him to get the last two scheduled episodes completed. (It had canceled the rest of that season's shows.) Ebersole decided to highlight the two strongest comedians on the show- Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy, who had been shamefully underused by Doumanian. Things seemed to improve and the network was ecstatic about Eddie Murphy. They were certain that he could be a breakout star. 

When the season ended, Ebersole won out. NBC would give the show at least one more season to prove itself. Everyone except for Piscopo and Murphy were fired and a new cast was brought in. NBC's risk paid off. Eddie Murphy became a sensation. This show was saved.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Rest in Peace, Beth Howland

Beth Howland, best known for her iconic role as the ditzy Vera in Alice passed away at age 84 on December 31, 2015. She did not want her death immediately announced, therefore her husband- Murphy Brown star Charles Kimbrough- honored her wishes and waited until today to notify the media.

Ms. Howland started her career in the 1950's. At first, she found little success, but soon started booking major roles on Broadway. She relocated to Hollywood in the mid sixties, getting numerous guest starring roles on television. 

In 1976 she would get her biggest and best known role- that of ditzy waitress Vera in the classic sitcom Alice. Vera was absentminded and a bit ditzy at times, frustrating her boss Mel, who often called her a "dingy". Deep beneath his gruff exterior, however, he had a soft spot for her and kept her employed despite her shortcomings.

Beth would stick with the show for the entire run before entering semi-retirement, only taking guest starring roles. She is survived by a daughter and her husband Charles Kimbrough.

More Wisdom From SVU




Friday, May 20, 2016

Rest in Peace, Alan Young

Legendary actor and Disney voice talent Alan Young has passed away at age 96. 

Mr. Young, best known for his role on the classic comedy Mr. Ed, was born in England, eventually finding his way to the United States after stints in Scotland and Canada. 

His first radio show was on Canada's CBC, but he quickly found work on American radio networks. He had his own television show The Alan Young Show which earned him an Emmy and starred in various Hollywood films.

It would be his role on Mr. Ed that would cement his place in television history. The show originally began in syndication, then made the unheard of leap to network television on CBS.

Mr. Young would earn his place in Disney history by becoming the official voice of Uncle Scrooge. His voice was heard in Mickey's Christmas Carol, Disney's DuckTales and various Disney Theme Park productions.

Rest in Peace, Morley Safer


Morley Safer, legendary CBS News reporter and longtime 60 Minutes anchor has passed away at age 84. Morley was born in Canada and got his start in Canadian media. CBS News hired him as a London correspondent. He quickly moved up at CBS, getting asked to open up the CBS office in Saigon. He angered President Lyndon Johnson who accused him of being a communist. Safer would join 60 Minutes in 1970, a place he would stay until just last week.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Flame Out at the Upfronts

The purpose of the Upfronts is to get the advertisers excited about the new shows that will premiere during the new Fall season. Typically, there's always a few standouts that make the advertisers leave the sessions satisfied that they know what the next season's hits will be. For example in 2003 everyone was certain that the big hit of the season would be NBC's Coupling. Billed as a sexier version of Friends, there were high hopes for the show. Remember it?


Of course you don't. It was a ratings disaster, lasting just one season. In 2006, NBC had another sure hit- the Aaron Sorkin produced dramedy Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The highly anticipated follow up to his acclaimed drama The West Wing, the show was a behind the scenes look at a Saturday Night Live style sketch show. This one actually started out very strong. Unfortunately, this sure thing started to sputter midway through its first season, becoming increasingly far fetched. The show was on the bubble, but it angered Lorne Michaels, who took NBC's approval of the show personally. This sure thing found itself a casualty of NBC's war.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Upfronts


Nowadays, the network Upfronts are a big deal. It's the time of year when the networks make the case for their Fall lineups before their real customers- advertisers. Despite the fact that the announcements have become very public, they were originally meant just for industry people. The stakes for both sides are huge. Ad buyers are looking for next season's Modern Family, a surprise hit whose commercial time could be purchased on the cheap. The networks are looking to pre-sell as much time as they can before the actual ratings roll in. By pre-selling time, the networks can lock in next year's budget. By pre-purchasing time, the ad buyers can lock in bargain rates on possibly hit television programs. While the networks try to be flashy and excited about their line-ups, the sad truth is that most of the shows announced this week will end up canceled and forgotten by this time next year.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

TV Producers?!?

You've seen the credits after every television program- it's usually a long, boring list of people who worked on the show. But why are there so many producer credits? It's all due to strange guild rules that are in force.


The writer's guild dictates that at most two people can be credited with writing a particular script. Hollywood studios, however, typically employ a room full of writers who contribute to every episode. Since only one or two writers can get the credit, the "Written By" credit typically goes to the person or persons who came up with the original story idea. The other writers who contributed to that script can't get a writing credit so they get producer credits for the week. That's why some industry people joke about the uselessness of producer credits.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Twilight Zone Day: Repeat Zoners

Today we celebrate Twilight Zone Day by looking at two repeat actors who appeared in more than one episode of The Twilight Zone. Since the show featured a different story every week, it was a challenge to produce each episode. Most shows have at least a handful of sets that are used every episode. The Twilight Zone, however, had different sets, different actors, different stories every week. An actor who knew how the process worked and had proven themselves was invaluable to Mr. Serling.

So we see Arlene Martel in two classic episodes; the first being a favorite of Temporary Layoffs- What You Need. Ms. Martel plays a down on her luck dame who tries her luck buying from an old peddler who sells her what she needs- cleaning solution. As it turns out, a handsome ex-baseball player, who was given a ticket to Scranton finds out he's been given a second chance with a minor league team in that very city. His suit jacket, however, is stained. Of course, Ms. Martel's character has just the thing to clean it. They shuffle off together, getting exactly what they needed.


Arlene's second appearance is in the following season's Twenty Two, another favorite. She only gets one line- "Room for one more, honey!" but says it in a menacing way as a vicious nurse in a dippy starlet's nightmares. The nurse frightens the starlet in her dreams nightly, inviting her into the hospital morgue.


The starlet is convinced that she just has a touch of hysterics and should leave the hospital to get back to Hollywood. She convinces herself that the doctors are right until she sees the face of the stewardess on her flight- it's the menacing nurse who repeats her chilling line- "Room for one more, honey!" The starlet shrieks and runs back into the terminal. As she watches the flight take off, it explodes. Her "hysterics" were really a premonition that saved her life.


Our second repeat Zoner is William Shatner who also starred in two classic episodes. The first was Nick of Time in which he plays a newlywed whose car breaks down in a strange town. When a novelty fortune telling machine seems to accurately predict the future, he becomes obsessed with it. Fearing that he's slowly going insane, his wife finally convinces him to leave the machine behind. Meanwhile, another couple sits down, obviously too far gone in their own obsession with the device.


His second episode would be Terror at 20,000 Feet. This is such an iconic episode that it is probably not necessary to recount its plot. (It's the one where Shatner sees a gremlin outside the airplane.) This installment would be directed by Richard Donner, who would go on to direct The Omen, Superman, The Goonies, Lethal Weapon and many other films. This episode would be a worthy start for a Hollywood legend.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Laverne & Shirley: Behind the Scenes


On this day in 1983, the classic Happy Days spinoff aired its final episode. A rare case of a program that surpassed the show it spun off from, there was a time when it was truly 'must see TV'. A spinoff cartoon was commissioned that placed the girls in the army. Unlike other cartoons of the time, the animated Laverne and Shirley actually featured the voices of the original actresses.


The show was so popular, it even spawned a record album.


Despite its initial success, the show flamed out early, in part due to the infighting on the show. Producers originally planned to end things after five seasons, but eked out two more seasons at the urging of ABC.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Rest in Peace, William Schallert

Veteran television actor William Schallert, best known for his role as Patty Duke's father on The Patty Duke Show, has passed away at the age of 93.

Mr. Schallert was born in Los Angeles. His father was a drama critic for the Los Angeles Times, which no doubt sparked a love of acting for William. 

While Mr. Schallert did work on stage and in movies, it was his many roles on television that made him a legend. His acting resume reads like an exhaustive list of classic television, including shows like Perry Mason, Bonanza, Dobie Gillis, Murphy Brown and so many more.

Mr. Schallert is survived by his wife of over 60 years and his four children.

Fake Lifetime Original Movie- "Racked & Stacked"


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Hanna Barbera's "These Are the Days"

Hanna Barbera might be considered a classic creator of television animation these days, but much of their output was highly derivative and hoky. What was The Flintstones but an animated copy of The Honeymooners? The Jetsons was merely a futuristic version of the The Flintstones. Their only arguably unique idea was Scooby Doo and they copied that one over and over again. In 1974, Hanna Barbera decided that an unfunny animated rip-off of The Waltons was needed. That Fall they premiered These Are the Days because kids were dying for a dramatic cartoon on Saturday mornings.


The cartoon featured the Days, an off-brand Walton family whose serious adventures offered a jarring transition from the standard animated cartoons shown in the early morning and the show that signaled the end of the cartoons to children of a certain age- American Bandstand.


The show lasted just one season. It seemed that kids didn't really care for a dramatic cartoon version of The Waltons. And toy companies could find no takers for what little merchandise was made available.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Johnny Otis Show

They called him the Godfather of R&B- he personally had just one hit, but he was no one hit wonder. Ethnically Greek, he was African-American in his heart and soul which is where it counted. Rather than just co-opt black music, Johnny Otis nurtured and shaped it, discovering legendary acts like Jackie Wilson and Etta James. His fingerprints are everywhere in the world of soul. He even wrote Gladys Knight and the Pips' first hit single. His enshrinement in both the Rock and Roll and R&B Hall of Fames was well deserved.


In 1956, he got his own television variety show on Los Angeles' KTTV. An amazing feat considering the time. During the run of the show, he featured some of the biggest names in R&B, backing them up with his own band.


Mr. Otis never forgot his roots, however, returning to his hometown of Berkeley to perform at the Berkeley Jazz Festival. Never comfortable with having the attention focused on himself, Johnny Otis continued to highlight other performers even in his later years. He never gained the fame of those he championed, but then again, he didn't really want to. His ultimate goal with his television show and everything else he did was to put a spotlight on the music he loved. And he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Brady Bunch Hour

It was a weird idea- take the Brady Bunch and put them into a variety show. Bright, tacky and loud, variety shows were all the rage in a decade in which much of fashion was bright, tacky and loud. The idea was so weird that ABC and Paramount didn't even bother to ask show creator Sherwood Schwartz. Mr. Schwartz could have put the kibosh on the enterprise, but he knew the Brady kids really needed the money. The Brady Bunch Hour went into production.


For Sid and Marty Krofft, this would be the project that put them on the map. Well, the one that would cement their place on the map at least. Sid and Marty Krofft were known as the kings of kids TV, but they wanted to make something for families. They had spent time working on other variety shows, but this would be one created by them from the ground up. Featuring a water follies troupe called the Kroftettes, the show was supposed to be the biggest variety production ever. ABC had signed the entire family except for Eve Plumb. Contrary to popular belief, Eve did want to participate, but she didn't want to commit to five seasons of thirteen episodes apiece. Instead they recast her with Geri Reischel, who became miserable after fans of the show rejected her. The biggest surprise of all was Robert Reed's participation. He had been a thorn in Sherwood Schwartz' side for years, rewriting scripts and hassling producers about the show's hokiness. For this Variety Show, he was a model employee. He loved the music, the dancing and the theatricality.


To round out the cast, ABC brought in Rip Taylor who bizarrely served as the Bradys famous neighbor. They hosted guests like Donny and Marie, the kids from What's Happening and even Redd Foxx.


The show would go onto infamy. In a world of tacky, garish variety shows, the Bradys hosted the tackiest most garish one of them all. Before the Bradys could settle into their variety home, the show was roundly rejected by viewers. Perhaps the show was too much for even the tackiest decade to handle. It would only last half a season, but would live on in infamy.