Tuesday, June 30, 2009

This week in Television History: June 09 Part III

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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.

June 27, 1945
FCC allocates TV channels
On this day in 1945, the FCC allocates airwaves for 13 TV stations. Before World War II, a few experimental TV shows had been broadcast in New York, but the war postponed the development of commercial television. With the allocation of airwaves, commercial TV began to spread. The first regularly scheduled network series appeared in 1946, and many Americans viewed television for the first time in 1947, when NBC broadcast the World Series. Since privately owned television sets were still rare, most of the series' estimated 3.9 million viewers watched the games from a bar.

June 27, 1975
Sonny and Cher divorce
In 1971 Sonny and Cher starred in their first television special, The Nitty Gritty Hour. A mixture of slapstick comedy, skits and live music, the appearance was a critical success, which led to numerous guest spots on other television shows. Sonny and Cher caught the eye of CBS head of programming Fred Silverman who offered the duo their own variety show.

The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour debuted in 1971 as a summer replacement series.

The show returned to prime time later that year and was an immediate hit, quickly reaching the Top 10. The show received 15 Emmy Award nominations during its run, winning one for direction, throughout its initial four seasons on CBS. Sonny and Cher's dialogues were patterned after the successful nightclub routines of Louis Prima and Keely Smith: the happy-go-lucky husband squelched by a tart remark from the unamused wife. The show featured a stock company of zany comedians, including Freeman King, Ted Ziegler, and Murray Langston (later The Unknown Comic on The Gong Show). By the third season of The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, the marriage of Sonny and Cher was falling apart; the duo separated later that year. The show imploded, while still in the top 10 of the ratings. What followed was a nasty, very public divorce. Cher won a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy for The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour in 1974.
Bono launched his own show, The Sonny Bono Comedy Revue, in the fall of 1974, retaining the "Sonny and Cher" troupe of comedians and writers. Cher also announced plans to star in a new variety series of her own. Critics, surprisingly, predicted that Bono would be the big winner with a solo comedy vehicle, and didn't hold much hope for Cher's more musical showcase. After only six weeks, however, Bono's show was abruptly cancelled. The Cher show debuted as an elaborate, all-star television special on February 16, 1975 featuring Flip Wilson, Bette Midler and special guest Elton John. The first season ranked in the Top 25 of the year-end ratings.
As a result of the divorce, Sonny and Cher went their separate ways until Cher attended the opening of one of Bono's restaurants in something of a reconciliation. The Sonny & Cher Show returned in 1976, even though they were no longer married (the duo "reunited" with a humorous handshake). After struggling with low ratings through 1977, Sonny and Cher finally parted ways for good. Sonny & Cher reunited for a performance on Late Night with David Letterman on November 13th of 1987.

Cher went on to a successful film career, winning the Best Actress Oscar for Moonstruck (1987). Sonny Bono later became a politician, serving as mayor of Palm Springs and as a U.S. congressman. He was killed in a skiing accident in 1998.
June 28, 1975
Rod Serling dies at age 50 after open-heart surgery. Born in 1924 in Syracuse, New York, Serling became one of early television's most successful writers, best known for the anthology series The Twilight Zone, which he created, wrote, and hosted.

In 1959, CBS aired the first episode of The Twilight Zone. Serling fought hard for creative control, hiring writers he respected (such as Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont) and launched himself into weekly television. He stated in an interview that the science fiction format would not be controversial and would escape censorship unlike the earlier Playhouse 90. In reality the show gave him the opportunity to communicate social messages in a more veiled context.
Serling drew on his own experiences for many episodes, with frequent stories about boxing, military life and aircraft pilots, which integrated his firsthand knowledge. The series also incorporated Serling's progressive social views on racial relations and the like, which were somewhat veiled by the science fiction and fantasy elements of the shows. Occasionally, however, Serling could be quite blunt, as in the episode I Am The Night — Color Me Black, where racism and hatred causes a dark cloud to form in the American South before eventually spreading elsewhere. Serling was also progressive on matters of gender, with many stories featuring quick-thinking, resilient women, although he also wrote stories featuring shrewish, nagging wives.
The show lasted five seasons (four using a half-hour format, with one half-season using an hour-long format), winning awards and critical acclaim for Serling and his staff. While having a loyal fan base, the program never had huge ratings and was twice canceled, only to be revived. After five years and 156 episodes, 92 of them written by Serling himself, he wearied of the show. In 1964, he decided to let the third cancellation be final.
Serling sold his rights to the series to CBS. His wife later claimed that he did this partly because he believed the studio would never recoup the cost of the show, which frequently went over budget.
In 1969, NBC aired a Serling-penned pilot for a new series, Night Gallery. Set in a dimly lit museum which was open after hours, the pilot film featured Serling (as on-camera host) playing the part of curator introducing three tales of the macabre, unveiling canvases that would appear in the subsequent story segments (its brief first season rotated as one spoke of a four-series programming wheel titled Four in One), focused more on gothic horror and the occult than did The Twilight Zone. Serling, no longer wanting the burden of an executive position, sidestepped an offer to retain creative control of content—a decision he would come to regret. Although discontented with some of producer Jack Laird's script and creative choices, Serling maintained a stream of creative submissions and ultimately wrote over a third of the series' scripts. By season three however, Serling began to see many of his script contributions rejected. With his complaints ignored, the disgruntled host dismissed the show as Mannix in a cemetery. Night Gallery lasted until 1973.
Subsequent to The Twilight Zone, Serling moved onto cinema screens and continued to write for television. In 1964, he scripted Carol for Another Christmas, a television adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. It was telecast only once, December 28, 1964, on ABC.
On May 25, 1962, Serling guest starred in the episode The Celebrity of the CBS sitcom Ichabod and Me with Robert Sterling and George Chandler.
He wrote a number of screenplays with a political focus, including Seven Days in May (1964) about an attempted military coup against the President of the United States; Planet of the Apes (1968); and The Man (1972) about the first African American President.

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

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