Monday, June 21, 2010

This week in Television History: June 2010 Part IV

Listen to me on TV CONFIDENTIAL with Ed Robertson and Frankie Montiforte Broadcast LIVE every other Monday at 9pm ET, 6pm PT (immediately following STU'S SHOW) on Shokus Internet Radio. The program will then be repeated Tuesday thru Sunday at the same time (9pm ET, 6pm PT)on Shokus Radio for the next two weeks, and then will be posted on line at our archives page at We are also on Share-a-Vision Radio ( Friday at 7pm PT and ET, either before or after the DUSTY RECORDS show, depending on where you live.

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.

Jun 22, 2008
Stand-up comedian, writer and actor George Carlin dies of heart failure at the age of 71.
Born in New York City, Carlin dropped out of high school and joined the Air Force. While stationed in Shreveport, Louisiana, he got a job as a radio disc jockey; after his discharge, he worked as a radio announcer and disc jockey in Boston and Fort Worth, Texas. Carlin and his early radio colleague, Jack Burns, formed a moderately successful stand-up comedy duo, appearing in nightclubs and on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. They soon parted ways, and Carlin made his first solo appearance on The Tonight Show in 1962. Three years later, he began a string of performances on The Merv Griffin Show and was later hired as a regular on Away We Go, 1967’s summer replacement for The Jackie Gleason Show. Carlin cemented his early career success with the release of his debut comedy album, the well-reviewed Take-Offs and Put-Downs, that same year.
During the late 1960s, Carlin had a recurring role on the sitcom That Girl, starring Marlo Thomas, and made numerous TV appearances on shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show and Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Seeking to make a leap into big-time stardom, the relatively clean-cut, conventional comic reinvented himself around 1970 as an eccentric, biting social critic and commentator. In his new incarnation, Carlin began appealing to a younger, hipper audience, particularly college students. He began dressing in a stereotypically “hippie” style, with a beard, long hair and jeans, and his new routines were punctuated by pointed jokes about religion and politics and frequent references to drugs.
Released in 1972, Carlin’s second album, FM/AM, won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording. A routine from his third hit album, Class Clown (also 1972) grew into the comic’s now-famous profanity-laced routine “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” When it was first broadcast on New York radio, a complaint led the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ban the broadcast as “indecent.” The U.S. Supreme Court later upheld the order, which remains in effect today. The routine made Carlin a hero to his fans and got him in trouble with radio brass as well as with law enforcement; he was even arrested several times, once during an appearance in Milwaukee, for violating obscenity laws.

More popular than ever as a countercultural hero, Carlin was asked to be the first guest host of a new sketch comedy show, Saturday Night Live, in 1975. Two years later, he starred in the first of what would be 14 comedy specials on the cable television station HBO (the last one aired in March 2008). Carlin had a certain degree of success on the big screen as well, including a supporting role in Outrageous Fortune (1987), a memorable appearance in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and a fine supporting turn in the drama The Prince of Tides (1991). More recently, he played a Roman Catholic cardinal in Kevin Smith’s satirical comedy Dogma (1999).
Though a 1994 Fox sitcom, The George Carlin Show, lasted only one season, Carlin continued to perform his HBO specials and his live comedy gigs into the early 21st century. He also wrote best-selling books based on his comedy routines, including Brain Droppings (1997), Napalm & Silly Putty (2001) and When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? (2004). According to his obituary in the New York Times, Carlin gave his last live comedy show in Las Vegas just weeks before his death.

June 24, 1987
Jackie Gleason dies.

Raised by a single mother who worked at a subway token booth in New York, Gleason dropped out of high school and began performing on the vaudeville circuit in his teens. Signed to a movie contract by the time he was 24 years old, Gleason played character roles in a handful of movies in 1941 and 1942, but found much more success in television. He became one of TV's most popular stars in a number of shows, including The Jackie Gleason Show, which ran throughout most of the 1950s and '60s. On the show, he created the character of Ralph Kramden, a bus driver who became the beloved star of the spin-off television show The Honeymooners.

June 25, 1993
Last night of Late Night with David Letterman. On this day in 1993, Late Night with David Letterman airs its last episode. Offbeat comic Letterman, passed over by NBC for the host seat on The Tonight Show after Johnny Carson's retirement, left the network to launch a rival show on CBS.

David Letterman was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1947. From an early age, he aspired to host his own talk show. He became a stand-up comic and a wacky weatherman on a local TV station. After years on the stand-up comedy circuit, he made his first appearance on The Tonight Show in 1978 and served as the program's guest host 50 times. In 1980, Letterman had a short-lived morning variety show, The David Letterman Show, which won two Emmys.
He launched his popular late-night TV show in 1982. His offbeat humor and goofy stunts spoofed traditional talk shows. Antics like wearing a Velcro suit and throwing himself at a wall or tossing eggs into a giant electric fan, Letterman gained a large following, especially among college students. Regular features included his "Top Ten List," "Stupid Pet Tricks," and tours of the neighborhood. He also frequently wandered with his camera into other NBC shows in progress. Over more than 11 years, the show won five Emmys and 35 nominations.
When Carson announced his retirement in 1992, Letterman and rival comic Jay Leno engaged in a heated battle for the coveted host slot. When Letterman was passed over, he left NBC for CBS, where his new program, Late Show, outperformed Leno's show almost every week in its first year. However, Leno pulled ahead the following year and maintained a strong lead. Letterman underwent emergency heart surgery in 2000 and was off the show for five weeks. In recent years, Leno's lead over Letterman in viewership has slimmed.

June 25, 2009
“King of Pop” Michael Jackson dies at age 50 after suffering from cardiac arrest caused by a fatal combination of drugs given to him by his personal doctor.
Michael Joseph Jackson was born on August 29, 1958, in Gary, Indiana, the seventh of Katherine and Joe Jackson’s nine children. At the age of 5, Jackson began performing with his older brothers in a music group coached by their steelworker father. In 1968, Motown Records signed the group, which became known as the Jackson 5, and Michael Jackson, a natural showman, emerged as the lead singer and star. The Jackson 5’s first album, released in 1969, featured the hit "I Want Back," and the group’s brand of pop-soul-R&B music made them an immediate success. Their musical popularity even led to their starring in their own TV cartoon series in the early 1970s.
Jackson released his first solo album, "Got to Be There," in 1972, while continuing to sing with his brothers. Six years later, in 1978, he made his big-screen debut as the Scarecrow in "The Wiz," an adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name. Directed by Quincy Jones, the film starred an all-black cast that included singer Diana Ross as Dorothy. Jones collaborated with Jackson on his 1979 album “Off the Wall,” which sold some 7 million copies worldwide. The pair teamed up again for Jackson’s now-iconic 1982 album, "Thriller," which went on to sell 50 million copies around the globe, making it the best-selling studio album of all time. "Thriller" is credited with jump-starting the era of music videos and playing a key role in the rise of then-fledging cable TV network MTV, which launched in 1981.
In 1983, Jackson created a massive sensation on a live Motown anniversary TV special when he performed his now-signature Moonwalk dance step while wearing a black fedora and a single white glove covered with rhinestones. According to The Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hillburn, the performance served as Jackson’s "unofficial coronation as the King of Pop. Within months, he changed the way people would hear and see pop music, unleashing an influence that rivaled that of Elvis Presley and the Beatles."
Jackson’s next solo effort, "Bad," debuted in 1987. It sold 8 million copies and featured a music video from acclaimed movie director Martin Scorsese. By this time, however, Jackson had paid a high price for his massive success. According to The Los Angeles Times: "He became so accustomed to bodyguards and assistants that he once admitted that he trembled if he had to open his own front door."
By the 1990s, Jackson’s life was near-constant tabloid fodder. In 1993, he was accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy who had been a sleepover guest at his home. Jackson denied the allegations and the criminal investigation was dropped; however, the singer later settled a civil lawsuit with the boy’s family for a reported $20 million. In 2003, Jackson was accused of molesting another boy. Following a highly publicized trial in 2005, he was acquitted of all charges. During these years, Jackson also faced intense media scrutiny over his radically altered physical appearance, which included an ever-lighter complexion (which he attributed to a skin condition) and multiple plastic surgeries. Although Jackson himself was mostly close-mouthed on the topic, media sources alleged that Jackson developed an obsession with cosmetic surgery, in part, following an accident he suffered in January 1984 while shooting a Pepsi commercial. During filming, a pyrotechnics mishap set the singer’s hair on fire, and he suffered burns on his head and face that required reconstructive surgery. In the aftermath of the surgery, Jackson reportedly suffered from an addiction to prescription painkillers.
Jackson also made headlines with his brief marriage (1994-1994) to Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of singer Elvis Presley. From 1996 to 1999, he was wed to Debbie Rowe, the former assistant of his dermatologist and the mother of two of his three children. (Jackson’s youngest child, a boy, was reportedly born via a surrogate.)

On June 25, 2009, Jackson, who after a lengthy time away from the public spotlight was preparing for a series of summer concerts in London, was discovered unconscious in his Los Angeles mansion. The Los Angeles coroner’s officer later ruled the pop star’s death a homicide after lethal levels of the powerful sedative propofol, as well other drugs, were found in his system. Jackson’s personal physician, who was at the singer’s home when he died, had been giving him propofol as a sleep aid for a period of weeks.
On July 7, 2009, more than 20,000 fans attended a public memorial for Jackson at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Over 30 million viewers tuned in watch the event on cable TV, while millions more viewed it online.

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 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. 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.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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