Monday, September 06, 2010

This week in Television History: September 2010 PART I

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.

September 7, 1950

Julie Kavner is born.

Before taking on the role of Marge Simpson on The Simpsons, Kavner played Brenda Morgenstern on Rhoda, a spin-off of The Mary Tyler Moore Show that originally aired from 1974 to 1978. In 1978, Kavner won an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her portrayal of Brenda, the younger sister of the show’s lead character, played by Valerie Harper. She won another Emmy in 1992, for Outstanding Voice-over Performance, for an episode of The Simpsons. On the big screen, Kavner has been a frequent performer in the films of the writer-director Woody Allen, including Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Radio Days (1987) and Shadows and Fog (1992). Among her other film credits are Awakenings (1990) and Judy Berlin (1999).

The Simpsons began as a series of animated shorts created by cartoonist Matt Groening (who reportedly based some of the main characters on members of his family) that aired on The Tracey Ullman Show starting in 1987. On December 17, 1989, The Simpsons debuted as primetime program on Fox with a Christmas special titled Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire. Set in the fictional town of Springfield, The Simpsons skewers American culture and society with its chronicles of a middle-class family comprised of the buffoonish husband and father Homer Simpson, a safety inspector at a nuclear power plant; his well-meaning, sometimes gullible wife Marge; and their troublemaker son Bart, precocious daughter Lisa and baby Maggie.

September 7, 1927
Philo Farnsworth's Image dissector camera tube transmitted its first image, a simple straight line, at his laboratory at 202 Green Street in San Francisco. The source of the image was a glass slide, backlit by an arc lamp. This was due to the lack of light sensitivity of the tube design, a problem Farnsworth never managed to resolve independently.

Philo Taylor Farnsworth (August 19, 1906March 11, 1971) best known for inventing the first completely electronic television. In particular, he was the first to make a working electronic image pickup device (video camera tube), and the first to demonstrate an all-electronic television system to the public. Largely self-educated, Farnsworth grew up on farms in Utah and Idaho. As a boy he took an interest in electricity and electrons, and it's said he came up with the idea of electronically scanning images for transmission while he was in high school.

On September 1, 1928, Farnsworth had developed the system sufficiently to hold a demonstration for the press—2 years after John Logie Baird had demonstrated his mechanical Television system in London. His backers had demanded to know when they would see dollars from the invention. The first image shown to them was a dollar sign. In 1929, the system was further improved by elimination of a motor-generator; the television system now had no mechanical moving parts. That year, Farnsworth transmitted the first live human images using his television system, including a three and a half-inch image of his wife, Pem—with her eyes closed because of the blinding light required.

Farnsworth spent the next decade arguing over patent rights in legal battles with David Sarnoff and engineer Vladimir Zworykin of RCA. In 1934 the U.S. Patent Office sided with Farnsworth, and in 1939 he sold his various patents to RCA. Although Farnsworth was awarded more than a hundred patents related to television, he did not become famous as "the inventor of television." Now it is generally agreed that the development of television involved many individuals, but it is also the consensus that Farnsworth deserves the lion's share of the credit.

September 8, 1922
Isaac Sidney "Sid" Caesar was born.

The comic actor and writer known best as the star of the 1950s television series Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour. Caesar began his television career when he made an appearance on Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater. In early 1949, Sid met with Pat Weaver, vice president of television at NBC (and father of Sigourney Weaver), which led to Caesar's appearance in his first series The Admiral Broadway Revue with Imogene Coca. The Friday show, simultaneously broadcast on NBC and the DuMont network (in order for the show to be carried on the only TV station then operating in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania- DuMont's WDTV- the sponsor had to agree to a simulcast) was an immediate success, but its sponsor, Admiral, an appliance company, could not keep up with the demand for its new television sets, so the show was cancelled after 26 weeks on account of its runaway success. According to Sid, an Admiral executive later told him the company had the choice of building a new factory, or continuing their sponsorship of the Revue for another season.

On February 23, 1950, Caesar appeared in the first episode of Your Show of Shows, a Saturday night 90-minute variety program produced by Max Liebman. The show launched Caesar into instant stardom and was a mix of scripted and improvised comedy, movie, and television satires, Caesar's inimitable double-talk monologues, top musical guests, and large production numbers. The impressive guest list included: Jackie Cooper, Robert Preston, Rex Harrison, Eddie Albert, Michael Redgrave, Basil Rathbone, Charlton Heston, Geraldine Page, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Pearl Bailey, Fred Allen, Benny Goodman, Lena Horne and many other big stars of the time. It was also responsible for bringing together one of the best comedy teams in television history: Sid, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, and Imogene Coca. Many prominent writers, denizens of the famed Writer's Room, also got their start creating the show's madcap sketches, including Lucille Kallen, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Michael Stewart, Mel Tolkin, and Larry Gelbart. Sid Caesar won his first Emmy in 1952. In 1951 and 1952, he was voted the United States' Best Comedian by Motion Picture Daily's TV poll. The show ended after 160 episodes on June 5, 1954. Just a few months later, Sid Caesar returned with Caesar's Hour, a one-hour sketch/variety show with Morris, Reiner, a young Bea Arthur, and much of the seasoned crew. Nanette Fabray replaced Imogene Coca who left to star in her own short-lived series. Ultimate creative and technical control was now totally in Caesar's hands. The show moved to the larger Century Theater, which allowed longer, more sophisticated productions and the weekly budget doubled to $125,000. The premier on September 27, 1954 featured Gina Lollobrigida.

Contemporary movies, foreign movies, theater, television shows and even opera all became targets of satire by the writing team, whose frenetic and competitive spirit produced some of the best comedy in television history. Often the publicity generated by the sketches boosted the box office of the original productions. Some notable sketches included: From Here to Obscurity (From Here to Eternity), Aggravation Boulevard (Sunset Boulevard), Hat Basterson (Bat Masterson), and No West For the Wicked (Stagecoach). Even silent movies were parodied, which showed off the impressive pantomime skills of the entire ensemble. They also performed some recurring sketches. The Hickenloopers were television's first bickering couple, predating The Honeymooners. As "The Professor", Caesar was the daffy expert who bluffed his way through his interviews with earnest roving reporter Carl Reiner. In its various incarnations, "The Professor" could be Gut von Fraidykat (mountain-climbing expert), Ludwig von Spacebrain (space expert), or Ludwig von Henpecked (marriage expert). Later, "The Professor" evolved into Mel Brooks' famous "The Two Thousand Year Old Man". The most prominent recurring sketch on the show was "The Commuters", featuring Caesar, Reiner and Morris involved with everyday working and suburban life situations.

Caesar's Hour was followed by Sid Caesar Invites You, briefly reuniting Caesar and Coca in 1958, and in 1963 with several As Caesar Sees It specials, which evolved into the 1963-'64 Sid Caesar Show, which alternated with Edie Adams in Here's Edie. Caesar also teamed up with Edie Adams in the Broadway show Little Me, a successful Neil Simon play, with choreography by Bob Fosse and music by Cy Coleman in which Sid played eight parts with 32 costume changes. Caesar and Edie Adams played a husband and wife drawn into a mad race to find buried money in the mega-movie-comedy It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

September 8, 1966
Star Trek premieres.

Although Star Trek ran for only three years and never placed better than No. 52 in the ratings, Gene Roddenberry's series became a cult classic and spawned four television series and ten movies.

The first Star Trek spin-off was a Saturday morning cartoon, The Animated Adventures of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek, which ran from 1973 to 1975 (original cast members supplied the voices). The TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation first aired in 1987 and was set in the 24th century, starring the crew of the new, larger U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D, captained by Jean-Luc Picard (played by Patrick Stewart). This series became the highest-rated syndicated drama on television and ran until 1994.

Another spin-off, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, premiered in 1992, featuring a 24th-century crew that lived in a space station rather than a starship. Star Trek: Voyager, which debuted in 1995 and ran until 2001, was the first to feature a female captain, Kathryn Janeway (played by Kate Mulgrew). In this series, the crew of the U.S.S. Voyager is stranded more than 70,000 light years from Federation space and is trying to find its way home. The final spin-off to air on TV was Enterprise, which premiered in the United States on September 26, 2001. The final two episodes of that show aired in May 2005.

Setember 8, 1986
The Oprah Winfrey Show is broadcast nationally for the first time.

A huge success, her daytime television talk show turns Winfrey into one of the most powerful, wealthy people in show business and, arguably, the most influential woman in America.

Winfrey, who was born in rural Mississippi to a poor unwed teenage mother on January 24, 1954, began her TV career as a local news anchor in Nashville and Baltimore before moving to Chicago in 1984 to host a low-rated morning talk program. She quickly turned the show into a ratings winner, beating out a popular talk program hosted by Phil Donahue. At the urging of the Chicago-based movie critic Roger Ebert, Winfrey signed a syndication deal with King World and The Oprah Winfrey Show was broadcast nationally for the first time on September 8, 1986. It went on to become the highest-rated talk show in TV history.

Proving that talk-show host wasn’t the only role she could play, Winfrey made her big-screen debut as Sofia in director Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple(1985), based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name and co-starring Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover. The film earned Winfrey a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, although she lost the gold statue to Anjelica Huston (Prizzi’s Honor). Winfrey went on to star in and produce in 1998’s Beloved, based on Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and voice characters for 2006’s Charlotte’s Web and 2007’s Bee Movie, which co-starred and was co-written by Jerry Seinfeld. In addition to TV and film, Winfrey became a true media mogul, branching out to books and magazines, radio, musical theater and the Web. In 2008, she announced plans to launch her own network, named OWN, in 2009.

In 2008, The Oprah Winfrey Show had an estimated weekly audience of some 46 million viewers in the United States and was broadcast around the world in 134 countries. Winfrey wields enormous influence when it comes to promoting products: A recommendation on her show can turn a book, movie or just about anything else into a bestseller, a phenomenon that has been dubbed the “Oprah Effect.”

September 9, 1956
Elvis Presley sang "Don't Be Cruel" and "Hound Dog" on Ed Sullivan's show Toast of the Town.

Presley scandalized audiences with his suggestive hip gyrations, and Sullivan swore he would never book the singer on his show. However, Presley's tremendous popularity and success on other shows changed Sullivan's mind. Although Elvis had appeared on a few other programs already, his appearance on Ed Sullivan's show made him a household name.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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