Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This week in Television History: Funny Men

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.

May 14, 1998
Last episode of Seinfeld aired. The show starred comedian Jerry Seinfeld and was created by Seinfeld and Larry David. Though Seinfeld originally intended the show to be about how a comedian gathers material for his show, it was later better known as the “show about nothing” that was able to draw comedic absurdity from ordinary day-to-day events. Originally, each show began and ended with clips of Seinfeld performing stand-up that related to that episode’s plot.
Seinfeld's ensemble cast included Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss), George Constanza (Jason Alexander) and Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards), all the main characters in the show were based on Seinfeld’s or David’s real-life friends and acquaintances. When the pilot (Originally titled The Seinfeld Chronicles) aired on July 5, 1989, reception was luke warm. The show was picked up by NBC and attracted a loyell following. Each episode's story line would be discussed at the water-cooler the folowing morning (One sparked a lawsuit).
The show also introduced new catch phrases into the national lexicon, including “yada yada yada,” “shrinkage,” “man hands” and “spongeworthy.”
The much-anticipated final episode was watched by an estimated 76 million viewers. Advertisers paid the then-record sum of $1.7 million for a 30-second spot in the show.
The 180 episodes of Seinfeld continue to air in syndication around the world.

May 22, 1992
Johnny Carson's last Tonight Show. As his retirement approached, Johnny Carson tried to avoid too much sentimentality, but would periodically show clips of some of his favorite moments and revisit with some of his favorite guests.
However, no one was quite prepared for Carson's next-to-last night, where his final guests his guests were Robin Williams and Bette Midler. Midler found the emotional vein of the farewell. After the topic of their conversation turned to Johnny's favorite songs ("I'll Be Seeing You" and "Here's That Rainy Day"), Midler mentioned she knew a chorus of the latter. She began singing the song, and after the first line, Carson joined in and turned it into a touching impromptu duet. Midler finished her appearance when, from center stage, she slowly sang the pop standard "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)." This penultimate show was immediately recognized as a television classic, and Midler would win an Emmy Award for her role in it.

Bette Midler - One For My Baby @ Yahoo! Video

Carson did not have guests on his final episode of The Tonight Show. An estimated 50 million people watched this retrospective show, which ended with him sitting on a stool alone on the stage, curiously similar to Jack Paar's last show. He gave these final words of goodbye,

“And so it has come to this: I, uh... am one of the lucky people in the world; I found something I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it. I want to thank the gentlemen who've shared this stage with me for thirty years. Mr. Ed McMahon, Mr. Doc Severinsen, and you people watching. I can only tell you that it has been an honor and a privilege to come into your homes all these years and entertain you. And I hope when I find something that I want to do and I think you would like and come back that you'll be as gracious in inviting me into your home as you have been. I bid you a very heartfelt good night”.

During his final speech, Carson told the audience that he hoped to return to television with another project and that hopefully "will meet with your approval". A few weeks after the final show aired, it was announced that NBC and Carson had struck a deal to develop a new series, but ultimately he chose never to return to television with another show of his own.
Johnny Carson died of complications from emphysema on January 23, 2005 at age 79.

May 25, 1992
Jay Leno's first Tonight Show. When Carson announced his retirement in 1992, Jay Leno succeeded him as host (Jay Leno, who became "permanent guest host" in 1987.), much to the outrage of David Letterman, host of Late Night, which ran after Tonight. The following year, Letterman accepted CBS's $42 million offer for his own show and launched the Late Show in 1993, running against Leno's time slot. Letterman beat Leno every week for the show's first year.
NBC announced in 2004 that Leno would leave The Tonight Show at the end of May 2009, and passing the torch to Conan O'Brien. However, following rumors of Leno being interested in moving elsewhere to launch a competing program, NBC signed Leno to a new deal for a nightly talk show in the 10:00 p.m. ET timeslot. The primetime series, tentatively titled The Jay Leno Show, will debut in fall 2009, following a similar format to the Leno incarnation of Tonight.
On September 22, 2006, Variety reported that The Tonight Show led in ratings for the 11th consecutive season, with a nightly average of 5.7 million viewers – 31% of the total audience in that time slot – compared to 4.2 million viewers for the Late Show with David Letterman, 3.4 million for Nightline and 1.6 million for Jimmy Kimmel Live. When the Leno show initially directly faced Letterman's show, Letterman initially led in ratings, however the turning episode is generally marked when Hugh Grant appeared on Leno (July 10, 1995). Leno famously asked Grant "What the hell were you thinking?" referring to Grant's arrest for seeing a prostitute.

Notable episodes
In September 2000, with California in an energy crisis that forced power outages, Jay Leno did an episode in the dark using only candles and flashlights known as "The Tonight Show Unplugged" in response to California's power crisis.

Following the attacks of
September 11, 2001, The Tonight Show was off the air for about a week, as were most similar programs. The first post-9/11 episode began with a still image of an American flag and a subdued opening without the usual opening credits. Leno's monologue paid tribute to those who lost their lives and to firefighters, police and rescue workers across the US. Leno had questioned whether a show that regularly poked fun at the government could continue after the attacks, but in his monologue, he explained that he saw the show as a respite from the grim news of the world, akin to a cookie or glass of lemonade handed to a firefighter. Senator John McCain and the musical group Crosby, Stills, and Nash were featured guests. For an extended period after the attack, a short clip of a large American flag waving was shown in between the announcement of the musical guest and Leno's introduction during the opening montage.

On August 6, 2003, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared on The Tonight Show and confirmed he would be running against California Governor Gray Davis for the California recall election. Schwarzenegger won the election on October 7.

On January 24, 2005, Leno had an episode that paid tribute to Tonight Show predecessor
Johnny Carson, who had died the day before. There were no opening credits, and the monologue simply gave condolence to Carson. There were no segments used, however, Leno played clips from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson before commercials. All the guests were people who had worked with Carson or had been on his show, including Ed McMahon, Drew Carey, Don Rickles, and Bob Newhart.

On July 20, 2006, as Colin Farrell was being interviewed by Leno, Farrell's stalker, Dessarae Bradford, evaded security, walked on stage as cameras were rolling, confronted Farrell, and threw her book on Leno's desk. In front of a silent, stunned audience, Farrell escorted her off the stage himself, told the camera crew to stop filming, and handed her over to security. As Bradford was led out of the studio, she shouted, "I'll see you in court!" Farrell's response was a smooth, "Darling, you're insane!" Outside the studio, NBC security handed her off to Burbank police, who eventually released her. While waiting to begin filming again, a shocked Leno sarcastically called for "a round of applause for NBC security" from the audience. After Farrell apologized to the audience, describing Bradford as, "my first stalker," the show then continued filming and the incident was edited out of the broadcast aired that night. Farrell later requested a restraining order in court against Bradford.

On January 2, 2008, The Tonight Show (along with Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Late Night with Conan O'Brien) returned to air without writers, with the WGA still on strike. This was in response to the deal by David Letterman's production company Worldwide Pants with the WGA to allow Late Show with David Letterman and Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson to return with writers. Leno's guest that night, Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, was criticized for crossing the WGA picket line to appear on the show. Huckabee would go on to win the Iowa caucuses the next day.

On March 19, 2009, President Barack Obama appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. This marked the first time that a sitting President of the United States appeared on a late night talk show. President Barack Obama came under fire for a remark made about the Special Olympics, in which he made in reference to Leno's congratulations to Obama's low bowling score.

May 30, 1908
Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and countless other Warner Bros. cartoon characters, was born on this day in San Francisco. His parents, who ran a women's clothing business, moved with their son to Portland, Oregon, when Blanc was a child. Blanc began performing as a musician and singer on local radio programs in Portland before he was 20. In the late 1920s, he and his wife, Estelle, created a daily radio show called "Cobwebs and Nuts," which became a hit. Blanc made many other radio appearances and became a regular on Jack Benny's hit radio show, providing the sounds of Benny's ancient car (The Maxwell) and playing several other characters.

In 1937, Blanc made his debut with Warner Bros., providing the voice for a drunken bull in a short cartoon called Picador Porky. Another actor provided the pig's voice, but Blanc later replaced him. In 1940, Bugs Bunny debuted in a short called A Wild Hare. Blanc said he wanted the rabbit to sound tough and streetwise, so he created a comic combination of Bronx and Brooklyn accents. Other characters Blanc created for Warner Bros. included the Road Runner, Sylvester, and Tweety Bird. He performed in some 850 cartoons for Warner Bros. during his 50-year career. For other studios, he provided the voices of Barney Rubble and Dino the dinosaur in The Flintstones, Mr. Spacely for The Jetsons, and Woody Woodpecker's laugh.
In his 1988 autobiography, That's Not All Folks, Blanc described a nearly fatal traffic accident that left him in a coma. Unable to rouse him by using his real name, a doctor finally said, "How are you, Bugs Bunny?" and Mel replied, in Bugs' voice, "Ehh, just fine, doc. How are you?"
Blanc continued to provide voices until the late 1980s, most memorably voicing Daffy Duck dueling with Donald Duck in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). After Mel Blanc died of complications from heart disease, his son Noel, trained by his father, provided the voices for the characters the elder Blanc had helped bring to life.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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