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 17, 2000
Final episode of Beverly Hills 90210 airs
Donna Martin (Tori Spelling) and David Silver (Brian Austin Green) finally say their vows, and on-and-off couple Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth) and Dylan McKay (Luke Perry) reunites, as the curtain closes on the teen drama series Beverly Hills, 90210 after 10 seasons. The final episode of the show, which premiered on October 4, 1990, on the Fox Television network, airs on this day in 2000.
Beverly Hills, 90210 was created by Darren Star and produced by Aaron Spelling, known for his roster of hit TV shows, including The Mod Squad, Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat, Dynasty, Starsky and Hutch and T.J. Hooker, among many others. At the outset, the show focused mostly on the culture shock that twin siblings Brandon and Brenda (Jason Priestley and Shannen Doherty) experience when they move with their parents from Minneapolis to swanky Beverly Hills. The first few seasons of the series followed the Walsh twins and their classmates--notably played by Garth, Perry, Spelling, Green, Gabrielle Carteris, and Ian Ziering--through their time at West Beverly Hills High School (the fact that many of the actors were noticeably older than high school age was well noted in press coverage of the show). The third season saw many of them go off to college at California University, and by the eighth season the gang (much changed after many cast departures and additions) was making their way into adult life.
90210 became the first in a string of Fox programs that were geared towards teenagers and young adults, combining glamour and style trends with a moralistic spin on teen-focused “issues.” Seemingly, no subject was taboo, and in its 10 seasons the show featured plotlines revolving around alcohol and drug abuse, learning disabilities, teenage pregnancy, date rape, gay rights, domestic violence, suicide and AIDS. Fueled by a young, diverse audience, 90210 proved to be consistently popular in the ratings for most of its run, reaching as high as No. 24.
Frequent cast changes occurred throughout the course of the show, most notably the departure of Doherty, who left at the end of the fourth season amid rumored tensions on the set. Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, who played Brandon’s bad-girl cousin for four seasons, replaced Doherty. Perry departed near the beginning of the sixth season but returned in the ninth as a “Special Guest Star.” In 1992, 90210 spawned a spin-off, Melrose Place, which was aimed at a slightly older audience; though it got off to a disappointing start, it eventually became another hit, producing in turn its own short-lived spin-off, Models, Inc. In the 10th season, ratings for Beverly Hills, 90210 dropped to an average of only 10 million viewers per week, a decline from previous seasons. Fox finally pulled the plug in early 2000, and the final episode aired that May. Melrose Place had bowed out the previous year.
In the fall of 2008, an updated version of Spelling’s now-classic series, titled simply 90210, debuted on the CW network. The show focused on a family from Kansas--parents with two teenage children--who move to Beverly Hills to keep tabs on the father’s alcoholic mother, a former TV star. Garth and Doherty both signed on to reprise their roles of Kelly Taylor and Brenda Walsh, now a guidance counselor and a guest musical director, respectively, at West Beverly Hills High School.
May 20, 2007
The Simpsons airs 400th episode.
The Simpsons was created by Matt Groenig, whose comic strip Life Is Hell caught the attention of the Hollywood producer James L. Brooks. Brooks enlisted Groenig to create a cartoon short that would run during the Fox sketch comedy series The Tracey Ullmann Show. Two of the show’s regulars, Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner, provided the voices for Homer and Marge Simpson, while Nancy Cartwright (who had originally auditioned for the role of their daughter, Lisa) landed the role of their troublemaking adolescent son, Bart. Lisa (voiced by Yeardley Smith) rounded out the speaking parts for the dysfunctional Simpson family, who made their debut on The Tracey Ullmann Show in April 1987. Brooks later convinced Barry Diller, Fox’s then-chief executive, to turn the shorts into a half-hour weekly series, to be developed by Brooks, Groenig and Sam Simon. The Simpsons debuted on Fox in December 1989 with a special Christmas episode, Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire. The first animated prime-time sitcom since The Flinstones in the 1960s, The Simpsons burst onto the scene during a period when most of the successful comedy series on television were family-friendly offerings such as The Cosby Show, Full House, Growing Pains and Family Matters. Offbeat and dysfunctional, The Simpsons offered a far different view of family life. Critics raved about the show and its edgy, pop-culture savvy humor from the beginning, and it became a huge ratings hit.
In 2005, The Simpsons became the longest-running sitcom ever, passing The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, which ran for 14 seasons (1952-66). Over the years, the series racked up no fewer than 23 Emmy Awards, and was named by TIME magazine as the best show of all time in 1999 and as No. 1 on Entertainment Weekly’s list of New Classic TV Shows in 2008. Its incredible success paved the way for other adult-oriented animated series, notably Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill, The Family Guy and South Park.
May 21, 1999
Soap star Susan Lucci wins first Emmy after 19 nominations.
“The streak is over…Susan Lucci!” announces Shemar Moore of The Young and the Restless on this night in 1999, right before presenting the Daytime Emmy Award for Best Actress to the tearful star of ABC’s All My Children. The award was Lucci’s first win in 19 straight years of being nominated in the Best Actress category for her portrayal of Erica Kane.
A native of Garden City, New York, Lucci moved to New York City after graduating from college in 1968. She played bit parts in the films Goodbye, Columbus and Me, Natalie (both 1969) before landing the role of the troubled teenager Erica Kane on a new soap opera, All My Children. The show debuted on January 5, 1970, and Lucci would go on to play Erica Kane over the next four decades, as the character married no fewer than 11 times (to eight different men, and several of the marriages were invalid), had several children and grandchildren, was kidnapped, survived an airplane crash and a car accident, battled drug addiction and became the owner of her own cosmetics company (among other notable events). By 1991, Erica Kane was, according to TV Guide, “unequivocally the most famous soap-opera character in the history of TV.”
As reported by the New York Times, Lucci at that time was the highest-paid actor on daytime television, earning more than $1 million per year for her work on All My Children. Her honors included a Best Soap Actress win in a 1985 People magazine poll, and a 1989 Soap Opera Digest Editors Award for an “outstanding contribution to daytime television.” One thing she didn’t have, however, was an Emmy. She received her first nomination in 1978, and before long had received several nominations in a row without a win. After reportedly losing her temper after failing to take home the award in 1982 and 1983, Lucci began accepting her runner-up status with more humor. In the fall of 1990, she appeared as a guest host on an episode of Saturday Night Live, in which all of the show’s cast and crew members carried Emmy statuettes past her during her opening monologue. She also filmed a commercial for a sugar substitute called the Sweet One, in which she lampooned her own hunger for an Emmy.
Lucci was the favorite to win that May night in 1999, and Moore’s announcement brought the audience in the theater at Madison Square Garden to their feet for a standing ovation that lasted several minutes. Lucci’s emotional acceptance speech brought tears to the eyes of many in the crowd, including the talk show host Rosie O’Donnell and Lucci’s All My Children co-stars Kelly Ripa and Marcy Walker. After thanking her husband, Helmut Huber, the All My Children cast and crew and her fans, Lucci closed her speech by announcing “I’m going to go back to that studio Monday and I’m going to play Erica Kane for all she’s worth.”
In addition to her work on All My Children, Lucci guest-starred repeatedly on the prime-time soap opera Dallas during the 1990s and has appeared in a number of TV movies, including Lady Mobster, Mafia Princess and Secret Passions. In 1999, she starred on Broadway in the revival of Annie Get Your Gun. Lucci also competed in the seventh installment of the reality series Dancing With the Stars, which aired in the fall of 2008.
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.
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.
To quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was".