Monday, January 17, 2011

This week in Television History: January 2011 PART III

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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.

January 17, 1949
The Goldbergs debuts as television's first situation comedy.

The show, which evolved from a nearly 20-year-old popular radio program of the same name, followed the adventures of a middle-class Jewish family in the Bronx. Gertrude Berg played gossipy housewife Molly Goldberg, and Philip Loeb played her husband, Jake, who worked in the clothing business. They had two teenagers, Sammy and Rosalie.
In each episode, the family would face another typical middle-class problem--and Molly enjoyed trying to help the neighbors in her apartment complex solve their problems, too. Later, when the fictitious family moved from the Bronx to suburban Haverville, the cast was joined by philosophical Uncle David, Sammy's fiancee (who later became his wife), her mother, and new neighbors. In 1952, Loeb was blacklisted for alleged Communist sympathies.
The show's sponsor, General Foods, dropped the series, and the show moved to NBC-without Loeb, though Berg had fought to keep him aboard. Loeb declared under oath he had never been a member of the Communist Party, and the charges were never proved, but his career was destroyed. He died in 1955 after taking a fatal overdose of sleeping pills in a hotel room. The show ran until 1954.

January 18, 1974
Six Million Dollar Man debuts.

The popularity of the Six Million Dollar Man, starring Lee Majors as Steve Austin, the world's first bionic man, inspires a superhero trend in the late 1970s, which spawns shows like Wonder Woman in 1976 and The Incredible Hulk in 1978. In 1975 two-part episode entitled The Bionic Woman introduced the character of Jaime Sommers, a professional tennis player who rekindled an old romance with Austin, only to experience a parachuting accident that resulted in her being given bionic parts similar to Austin. Ultimately, however, her bionics failed and she died. The character was very popular, however, and the following season she was revived (having been cryogenically frozen) and was given her own spin-off series, The Bionic Woman, which lasted until 1978 when both it and The Six Million Dollar Man were simultaneously cancelled. Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers returned in three subsequent made-for-television movies:The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman (1987), Bionic Showdown (1989) — which featured Sandra Bullock in an early role as a new bionic woman; and Bionic Ever After? (1994) in which Austin and Sommers finally marry. Majors reprised the role of Steve Austin in all three productions, which also featured Richard Anderson and Martin E. Brooks.

January 22, 1947
The first television station west of the Mississippi River goes on the air.

The station was KTLA-TV in Hollywood. The station began broadcasting at 8:30 p.m. from a converted garage. When the first Emmy Awards were handed out two years later, KTLA swept the awards for its original programming.

January 22, 1972
Emergency! premieres.

Emergency!, produced by Dragnet star and producer Jack Webb, premieres, featuring the same semidocumentary style popularized by Webb's earlier police drama. Emergency was based on the paramedic program that started in Los Angeles, California in 1969. Senator Alan Cranston actually praised the show for informing the public about the value of funding such programs. The show focused on the adventures of paramedics Roy DeSoto and Johnny Gage. The show, which ran from 1972 to 1977, foreshadowed later hits like E.R., with its interwoven comic and serious subplots. Julie London was married to fellow Emergency cast member Bobby Troup. In an earlier marriage, London was married to Jack Webb. Bobby Troup was a bandleader before becoming an actor.

January 23, 1983
The A-Team debuts on NBC.

In the pilot episode of the NBC television series The A-Team, the go-getting newspaper reporter Amy Allen (Melinda Culea) seeks the help of a mysterious group of Vietnam-veterans-turned-soldiers-for-hire to find her missing colleague in Mexico. An elite commando unit in Vietnam, the so-called A-Team was wrongly imprisoned by the Army. They escaped and began working as mercenaries, doing whatever needed to be done for their various clients while consistently eluding the fanatic Army officers sent to catch them. The A-Team went on to become a huge hit and make a star of the-then little known actor Mr. T.
Produced by Stephen Cannell and first envisioned by Brandon Tartikoff, NBC’s president, as a volatile combination between films such as The Dirty Dozen, The Magnificent Seven and The Road Warrior and TV programs such as Hill Street Blues, The A-Team became a bona fide phenomenon during its five-year run. Despite its late entry to the 1982-83 ratings season, The A-Team was on its way to a No. 1 ranking by season’s end. It also topped a list of the most violent shows on TV, compiled that year by the National Coalition on Television Violence.
George Peppard, who memorably starred opposite Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), played the A-Team’s leader, John “Hannibal” Smith; he called his A-Team role “probably the best part I’ve had in my career.” The show also featured Dirk Benedict as Templeton “Faceman” Peck and Dwight Schultz as H.M. (Howling Mad) Murdock, but its breakout star was the mohawked, gold-bedecked Mr. T. Born Laurence Tureaud in a tough Chicago neighborhood, Mr. T got into show business after winning a contest as the “World’s Toughest Bouncer.” He was spotted by Sylvester Stallone, who cast him as a boxer in Rocky III (1982). As the surly A-Team mechanic B.A. (Bad Attitude) Baracus, Mr. T uttered some of the show’s most memorable catchphrases, including “You better watch out, sucker” and “Pity the fool.”
Campy and outrageously violent, The A-Team was particularly popular among children and teenagers, and with male audiences. Over the years, the show’s producers experimented with adding a woman to the mix--including Culea’s Amy Allen, Marla Heasley as Tawnia Baker and Tia Carrere (who later starred in Wayne’s World) as a Vietnam war orphan meant to provide a link to the soldiers’ past--but these stints were relatively short-lived, and the team’s testosterone-heavy vibe remained intact. By its fourth season, the show’s popularity was waning, due partially to its formulaic nature and partially to the growing trend towards family-friendly comedy that was being driven by the success of The Cosby Show. In the spring of 1986, Cosby-inspired shows such as Who’s the Boss? and Growing Pains on ABC were beating The A-Team handily in the ratings each week.
A-Team producers tried different tricks to win audiences over, including one episode centered on the popular game show Wheel of Fortune and various guest appearances by such prominent personalities as the pop star Boy George, the professional wrestler Hulk Hogan and the Chicago Bears defensive lineman William “Refrigerator” Perry. The show hung on into a fifth season, but aired only 13 episodes, ending unceremoniously in March 1987.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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