Monday, March 23, 2009

This week in Television History: The Start of Something Big

Listen to me talk about this week's This week in Television History @ TV CONFIDENTIAL Mar. 24 edition: Hour 1 with guests Tony Figueroa and David Krell

As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.

March 23, 1940
Truth or Consequences originally aired on NBC radio with its creator, Ralph Edwards, as the Host. A decade later it moved to television on CBS. Contestants on the show were asked trick questions which they almost always failed to answer correctly. If they answered incorrectly, or failed to come up with any answer in a short time, Beulah the Buzzer went off. The host then told them that since they had failed to tell the truth, they would have to pay the consequences. Consequences consisted of elaborate stunts, some done in the studio and others done outside, some completed on that week's episode and others taking a week or more and requiring the contestant to return when the stunt was completed. Some of the stunts were funny, but more often they were also embarrassing, and occasionally they were sentimental like the reunion with a long-lost relative or a relative/spouse returning from military duty overseas, particularly Vietnam. Sometimes, if that military person was based in California, his or her spouse or parents were flown in for that reunion.

The spa city of "Hot Springs" in Sierra County, New Mexico took the name Truth or Consequences in1950, when host Ralph Edwards announced that he would do the program from the first town that renamed itself after the show. Ralph Edwards came to the town during the first weekend of May for the next fifty years.

The original TV version of this series, with Edwards as host, lasted only a single season. When in returned three years later on NBC, Jack Bailey was the host, later replaced by Steve Dunne. NBC aired a daytime version of the show from 1956 to 1965, first with Jack Bailey again as host, succeeded by Bob Barker. Barker remained with the show through the rest of the daytime run and on into the original syndicated run from 1966 to 1974. During Barker's run as host, "Barker's Box" was played. Barker's Box was a box with four drawers in it. A contestant able to pick the drawer with money in it won a bonus prize. Bob Hilton hosted a short-lived syndicated revival from 1977 to1978 and in the fall of 1987, comic Larry Anderson became the host of another short-lived version.

March 21, 1980
J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman), the character millions loved to hate on TV’s popular nighttime drama Dallas, was shot. The shooting made the season finale, titled A House Divided, one of television’s most famous cliffhangers and left America wondering "Who shot J.R.?" Dallas fans waited for the next eight months to have that question answered because the season premiere of Dallas was delayed due to a Screen Actors Guild strike. That summer, the question "Who Shot J.R.?" entered the national lexicon. Fan’s wore T-shirts printed with "Who Shot J.R.?" and "I Shot J.R.". A session of the Turkish parliament was suspended to allow legislators a chance to get home in time to view the Dallas episode. Betting parlors worldwide took bets as to which one of the 10 or so principal characters had actually pulled the trigger. J.R. had many enemies and audiences were hard-pressed to guess who was responsible for the shooting.

The person who pulled the trigger was revealed to be J.R.’s sister in law/mistress Kristin Shepard (Mary Crosby) in the "Who Done It?" episode which aired on November 21, 1980. It was, at the time, the highest rated television episode in US history. It had a Nielsen rating of 53.3 and a 76% share, and it was estimated that 83,000,000 people watched the episode.

The previous record for a TV episode, not counting the final installment of the miniseries Roots, had been the 1967 finale for The Fugitive. "Who Shot J.R.?" now sits second on the list, being beaten in 1983 by the final episode of M*A*S*H but still remains the highest rated non-finale episode of a TV series.

To quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

PS: March 21, 1983
The last episode of the long-running TV series Little House on the Prairie aired. The series, based on the children's book by Laura Ingalls Wilder, premiered in 1974. The show was one of television's 25 most highly rated shows for seven of its nine seasons. When series star and executive producer Michael Landon decided to leave the show in 1982, the show's title changed to Little House: A New Beginning and focused on character Laura Ingalls Wilder (Melissa Gilbert) and her family. The show lasted only one more season. Three made-for-television movie sequels followed: Little House: Look Back to Yesterday (1983), Little House: Bless All the Dear Children (1983), and Little House: The Last Farewell (1984).
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