Monday, September 27, 2010

This week in Television History: September 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.

September 27, 1954
Steve Allen becomes the first host of The Tonight Show.
The first Tonight! announcer was Gene Rayburn. Allen's version of the show originated such talk show staples as an opening monologue, celebrity interviews, audience participation, and comedy bits in which cameras were taken outside the studio, as well as music, including guest performers and a house band under Lyle "Skitch" Henderson.

When the show became a success, Allen got a prime-time Sunday comedy-variety show in June 1956, leading him to share Tonight hosting duties with Ernie Kovacs during the 1956–1957 season. To give Allen time to work on his Sunday evening show, Kovacs hosted Tonight on Monday and Tuesday nights, with his own announcer and bandleader.
During the later Steve Allen years, regular audience member Lillian Miller became such an integral part that she was forced to join AFTRA, the television/radio performers union.
Allen and Kovacs departed Tonight in January 1957 after NBC ordered Allen to concentrate all his efforts on his Sunday night variety program, hoping to combat CBS's Ed Sullivan Show's dominance of the Sunday night ratings.

September 26, 1969
The Brady Bunch airs for the first time.

The show was panned by critics and, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, during “its entire network run, the series never reached the top ten ranks of the Nielsen ratings. Yet, the program stands as one of the most important sitcoms of American 1970s television programming, spawning numerous other series on all three major networks, as well as records, lunch boxes, a cookbook, and even a stage show and feature film.”
Created by Sherwood Schwartz (whose previous hit sitcom was Gilligan’s Island),
The Brady Bunch followed the story of Carol (Florence Henderson), a widowed mother of three blonde daughters, who marries architect Mike Brady (Robert Reed), a widower and the father of three brown-haired boys. The blended family lives together in a suburban Los Angeles home with their cheerful housekeeper, Alice (Ann B. Davis). The show focused primarily on issues related to the Brady kids--Greg (Barry Williams), Marcia (Maureen McCormick), Peter (Christopher Knight), Jan (Eve Plumb), Bobby (Mike Lookinland) and Cindy (Susan Olsen)--who ranged from grade-school age to teenage. Although set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a time of political and social upheaval in the United States, The Brady Bunch generally avoided controversial topics and instead presented a wholesome view of family life, tackled subjects such as sibling rivalry (including Jan’s now-famous complaint about the focus on her sister: “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”), braces and dating.
After 177 episodes, ABC cancelled The Brady Bunch and the last original episode aired on August 30, 1974. However, the show soon became a massive hit in rerun syndication. The show’s various spin-offs have included a 1977 variety program, The Brady Bunch Hour; a 1988 TV movie A Very Brady Christmas; the 1995 big-screen parody The Brady Bunch Movie (with Shelley Long and Gary Cole as Carol and Mike) and its follow-up A Very Brady Sequel (1996); and the 2002 TV movie The Brady Bunch in the White House. In 1992, Barry Williams published a best-selling memoir titled Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg, which provided a behind-the-scenes look at the show and revealed that life behind the Brady Bunch cameras was less wholesome than it seemed on TV.

October 1, 1962
Johnny Carson becomes the new host of The Tonight Show.

Ed McMahon was Carson's announcer. The Tonight Show orchestra was for several years still led by Skitch Henderson. After a brief stint by Milton DeLugg, beginning in 1967 the "NBC Orchestra" was then headed by trumpeter Doc Severinsen who played in the Tonight Show Band in the years that 'Skitch' Henderson conducted. For all but a few months of its first decade on the air, Carson's Tonight Show was based in New York City. In May 1972 the show moved to Burbank, California into Studio One of NBC Studios West Coast (although it was announced as coming from nearby Hollywood), for the remainder of his tenure. Carson is often referred to as "The King of Late-Night" because of the great influence he has had on so many well-known talk show hosts and comedians. Carson started each show with a monologue and continued with sketches in which he played recurring characters "Carnac the Magnificent". In 1965, Carson insisted on delivering his monologue at 11:30 instead of 11:15, the show's official starting time, because many stations ran news until 11:30 and didn't join The Tonight Show until the half hour. In 1967, Carson walked out over contract differences, returning several weeks later when the network allegedly offered him a contract worth more than $1 million a year-an exorbitant salary at that time. The show moved to Burbank in 1972. In March 1978, Carson received a contract reportedly worth $3 million. Frequent guest hosts included Joan Rivers, who became "permanent guest host" from 1983 to 1986, and Jay Leno, who became permanent guest host in 1987. David Letterman also served as guest host, appearing more than 50 times.
When Carson announced he would retire in 1992, a highly publicized battle for the job ensued between top contenders Jay Leno and David Letterman. When Letterman lost, he accepted CBS's offer for his own show and launched Late Show with David Letterman in 1993. Carson died at the age of 79, in 2005.

October 2, 1928
George Robert Phillips "Spanky" McFarland was born.
Most famous for his appearances in the Our Gang series of short-subject comedies of the 1930s and 1940s. The Our Gang shorts were later popular after being syndicated to television as The Little Rascals.

In 1952, at age 24, McFarland joined the U.S. Air Force. Upon his return to civilian life, indelibly typecast in the public's mind as "Spanky" from Our Gang, he found himself unable to find work in show business. He took less glamorous jobs, including work at a soft drink plant, a hamburger stand, popsicle factory, selling wine, operating a restaurant and night club, and selling appliances, electronics and furniture. In the late 1950s, when the Our Gang comedies were sweeping the nation on TV, McFarland hosted an afternoon children's show, Spanky's Clubhouse, on KOTV television in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The show included a studio audience and appearances by other celebrities such as James Arness, and it ran Little Rascals shorts.
Spanky loaned his name and celebrity to help raise money for charities, primarily by participating in golf tournaments. Spanky also had his own namesake charity golf classic for 16 years, held in Marion, Indiana.
McFarland continued to do personal appearances and cameo roles in films and television, including an appearance on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.
His final television performance was in 1993 in an introductory vignette at the beginning of the Cheers episode "Woody Gets An Election".
McFarland died suddenly of a heart attack on June 30, 1993, at age 64. His remains were cremated shortly thereafter. In January 1994, “Spanky” joined fellow alumnus Jackie Cooper to become one of only two Our Gang members to receive a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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