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.
December 29, 1936
Mary Tyler Moore is born in Brooklyn.
Moore's family moved to Los Angeles when she was nine. After graduating from high school, Moore married a CBS sales rep and later became interested in television. She appeared in TV commercials and small TV roles until 1961, when she landed the part of Dick Van Dyke's wife, Laura, on The Dick Van Dyke Show. In 1970, Moore landed her own show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which became one of the most popular situation comedies of the 1970s. Running from 1970 to 1977, the show spawned numerous spin-offs, including Rhoda, Phyllis, and Lou Grant, all of which were produced by MTM Productions, Moore's company.
December 30, 1959
Comedian Tracey Ullman is born in Hackbridge, England.
She attended theater school from ages 12 to 16. At age 21, she began performing with an avant-garde drama group, the Royal Court Theater, where she won rave reviews. She landed her own U.S. TV show in 1987. The Emmy-winning Tracey Ullman Show ran from 1987 to 1990. The show featured short skits starring Ullman and a regular cast of players, and also aired short animated segments-one was an offbeat cartoon about underachieving 10-year-old named Bart Simpson and his oddball family. The cartoon was later spun off into its own hit show, The Simpsons.
December 30, 1985
Rick Nelson is killed in a plane crash.
Nelson got his start by starring in his parents' TV series, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
Nelson was born in 1940 to famous parents: His father, Ozzie Nelson, was a bandleader, and his mother, Harriet, was a singer and actress. When Ricky was four years old, his parents launched their radio series, playing themselves, with actors playing their young sons. Five years later, Ricky and his older brother, David, suggested that they, like their parents, play themselves on the series. In 1952, the series moved to TV.
Nelson attended Hollywood High School and showed little interest in music until his girlfriend raved to him about Elvis. He boasted that he was about to cut a record himself. His father let him cut a demo with his orchestra; Nelson claimed he chose to cover Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin'" because it relied heavily on the two guitar chords Nelson knew how to play.
When Nelson played the song on the TV series, he became an overnight sensation. His first album, released in November 1957, topped the Billboard charts, and Nelson became one of the best-selling male singers of the 1950s, with 53 Hot 100 hits, 17 in the Top 10. Nelson later changed his name from Ricky to Rick. He also appeared in several movies, including Rio Bravo with John Wayne and Dean Martin in 1959 and The Wackiest Ship in the Army in 1960.
After Ozzie and Harriet went off the air in 1966, Nelson's music career fizzled until he discovered the emerging style of country rock. On two albums, he covered country material and scored a few hits in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Although he would never be a superstar again, he continued touring aggressively, performing more than 200 nights a year. He put together a new band in 1985 and signed a new record deal, but on December 31, en route to a concert in Texas, he died in a plane crash at age 45. The last song he performed live was a cover of "Rave On" by Buddy Holly, who also died in a plane crash.
January 1, 1951
The Zenith Radio Corporation of Chicago demonstrates the first pay television system. The company sent movies over the airway via scrambled signals, and the 300 families who participated in the test could send telephone signals to decode the movies for $1 each. Three movies were shown in the demonstration: April Showers with Jack Carson, Welcome Stranger with Bing Crosby, and Homecoming with Clark Gable and Lana Turner. During the four-week test, test families ordered more than 2,600 movies.
Simple though it seems, putting movies on TV at all, let alone sending them over the phone, was a technically complex proposition taking years to come to fruition. A motion picture presented 24 frames per second-a rate that created an annoying flicker on TV. The earliest attempts to broadcast movies on TV took place in 1928 and included an extremely blurry hockey game and an excerpt from the movie The Taming of the Shrew. Improvements in technology eventually led to the regular broadcasting of movies on TV.
Despite Zenith's experiments with movies-by-phone, pay movies didn't become popular until later in the century, following the spread of cable TV in the 1960s and '70s. Although cable TV had been created in the late 1940s to give rural households better television reception, it wasn't until the 1960s, when cable became widely available in urban areas, that cable companies began introducing their own networks accessible only to subscribers.
In 1975, cable networks began using satellites to distribute their programming to heavily regulated local cable operators. In the late 1980s and early '90s, the size of the cable industry exploded, and many companies offered more than 100 channels to their clients. Now, more than 10,000 cable systems operate throughout the United States. Their specialized programming features everything from foreign news and shopping clubs to sports coverage and classic movies. Cable companies still also offer an array of pay-per-view movies accessible with a touch of the customer's remote control.
January 2, 1990
Alan Hale Jr., the Skipper on Gilligan's Island, dies of cancer at age 68.
Gilligan's Island ran from 1964 to 1967, then aired in reruns for decades. The characters were resurrected in three TV movies in 1978, 1979, and 1981.
January 3, 1949
Colgate sponsors the early anthology series, Colgate Theater.
Like most dramatic programming at the time, the show consisted of weekly plays and/or scripts adapted for television. Among many other stories, the show produced two of the earliest TV adaptations of radio programs: Vic and Sade and Mr. and Mrs. North.
January 3, 1952
Dragnet debuts, launching a long legacy of realistic police drama on TV.
Dragnet, which began as a popular radio program in 1949, boosted the popularity of the series format on TV.
Until Dragnet's TV debut, variety shows and comedy hours had dominated prime time programming. Most television drama appeared on hour-long anthology shows like Kraft Television Theater, featuring unrelated stories and different casts every week. In fact, Dragnet itself first appeared on TV as a drama on an anthology show called Chesterfield Sound-Off Time in December 1951.
The brainchild of actor-director Jack Webb--who starred as Sgt. Joe Friday--Dragnet was one of the first series to be filmed in Hollywood, not New York. Webb narrated the shows in a deadpan, documentary style, turning "just the facts, ma'am" into a national catchphrase. Barton Yarborough, a cast member in the radio series, played Friday's sidekick Sgt. Ben Romero on TV but died of a heart attack shortly after the first telecast. Over the years, Friday had three different sidekick characters, played by Barney Phillips, Herb Ellis, Ben Alexander, and Harry Morgan.
Episodes were based on real cases from the Los Angeles Police Department, and each half-hour segment concluded with the capture of the perpetrator, followed by a short update on what happened at the suspect's trial. The show inspired two hit records in 1953, one based on the show's familar "dum-de-dum-dum" theme music. The other was a novelty song called "St. George and the Dragonet," which spoofed the show's opening monologue.
During Dragnet's first year, the show ran every other Thursday, then ran weekly until it ended in the fall of 1959. The show was resurrected in 1967 under the name Dragnet '67 and ran for another two years, dropping its emphasis on high-intensity crime to focus on citizens in distress and community service. In 1987, Dragnet was revived again, as a spoof, in a feature film starring Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks. The TV show reappeared two years later as a syndicated series, airing in the 1989-90 season in New York and Los Angeles only, then nationally syndicated the following season.
To quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was".