Monday, February 28, 2011

This week in Television History: March 2011 Part I

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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.

March 4, 1995
John Candy dies.
The larger-than-life comedic star John Candy dies suddenly of a heart attack on this day in 1995, at the age of 43. At the time of his death, he was living near Durango, Mexico, while filming Wagons East, a Western comedy co-starring the comedian Richard Lewis.
Born in 1950, Candy's first professional acting work was in children's theater in his native Canada. In 1972, he was accepted into the prestigious Second City comedy troupe in Toronto, where he would become a regular writer and performer for the group's television program, SCTV, alongside other rising comics like Eugene Levy (later Candy's co-star in Splash) and Harold Ramis (Ghostbusters). When SCTV moved to network television in 1981, Candy moved with it; that year and the next, he won Emmy Awards for writing for the show. Candy's recurring (and most famous) SCTV persona was Yosh Shmenge, a clarinet player in a polka band. He would reprise the character in a mock documentary, The Last Polka, on HBO in 1985 and would also play a polka musician in the smash hit Home Alone (1990).
Candy made his big break into movies with Splash (1984), in which he stole most of his scenes as the idle, high-living brother of the main character, played by Tom Hanks. The film, directed by Ron Howard, was a smash hit, jump-starting the careers of Candy, Hanks, Darryl Hannah and Levy. In one particularly memorable scene, Candy throws himself with abandon around a racquetball court, using his hefty frame to full comedic effect. Six-foot-three and weighing as much as 275 pounds, he struggled with dieting over the years, but his heft undoubtedly contributed to his success as a comic performer.
After Splash, Candy was in high demand as a lovable oaf. He starred in a number of box-office hits over the next 10 years, including Spaceballs (1987), and collaborations with the writer, producer and director John Hughes in Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), The Great Outdoors (1988) and Uncle Buck (1989). A devoted sports fan and co-owner of the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, he was also part owner of House of Blues, with the actors Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi. In 1993, Candy won praise for his role as the sensitive coach of an unlikely Jamaican bobsled team in Cool Runnings (1993).
At the time of his death, Candy had just completed his directorial debut, the Fox Television movie comedy Hostage for a Day. He had performed two-thirds of his scenes in Wagons East, which was finished after the filmmakers' insurance company paid a reported $15 million settlement. Another recently wrapped movie, Canadian Bacon, was released in 1995. Candy was survived by his wife, Rosemary, and their two children, Jennifer and Christopher.

March 4, 1996
Minnie Pearl dies.
A longtime fixture of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, comedian Minnie Pearl dies on this day. Pearl was famous for her comic monologues about hillbilly life, and was featured on the long-running syndicated show Hee Haw from 1970 to 1990.

March 5, 2006
Jon Stewart hosts 78th annual Academy Awards ceremony.

By early 2006, Jon Stewart, the irreverent host of The Daily Show, a fake television news program on Comedy Central, had seen the ratings for his show jump dramatically as a result of its coverage of the 2004 presidential election. The show spawned a popular spin-off, The Colbert Report, starring Daily Show regular Stephen Colbert, and a best-selling parody of a social studies textbook, America (The Book). On March 5, 2006, however, Stewart took on his highest-profile gig to date--hosting the 78th annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles.
In preparation for the Oscars, Stewart enlisted a team of writers from The Daily Show led by Ben Karlin, a former editor of the satirical newspaper The Onion and the then-executive producer of both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. After the stars swanned down the red carpet, the ceremony began with a filmed segment suggesting Stewart was the last possible choice for the hosting gig and showing a series of former hosts refusing the job.
While Stewart’s deadpan humor might have had audiences laughing at home, his constant poking fun at Hollywood and the stars themselves seemed to meet with a less friendly reception from the Kodak Theatre audience. Jokes about Scientology and Hollywood’s liberal politics fell flat, but the audience did warm up to Daily Show-style fake ads mocking Oscar-campaigning tactics and Stewart’s ad-libbed running joke about the exuberant acceptance speech given by the rap group Three 6 Mafia, who won an Oscar for Best Song for “It’s Hard Out There For a Pimp” (from Hustle & Flow).
In the post-show media analysis the next morning, the consensus seemed to be that Stewart struggled; his hosting performance and its reception by the audience was compared with less-successful hosts from the past, such as David Letterman and Chris Rock, as opposed to Oscar favorites like Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg. He was praised, however, for poking fun at the bloated, self-important nature of the Academy Awards ceremony itself, with its often-overdone production numbers and political posturing by the stars themselves. Stewart earned a second Oscars hosting gig--and better reviews--in 2008, in the wake of Hollywood’s writers’ strike and in the midst of the presidential campaign season.
The 78th annual Oscars were also memorable for the surprising upset victory of the ensemble drama Crash in the Best Picture category. After the Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee took home the Best Director Oscar for Brokeback Mountain, that film’s string of awards seemed to have given it the front-runner’s momentum to win Best Picture, the last statuette of the night. The New York Times called Crash’s selection as Best Picture a “stunning twist” to the evening, while Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times observed that some Academy voters may have been uncomfortable with the subject matter of Brokeback Mountain, which starred Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as sheepherders who fall in love while working in Wyoming in the early 1960s. Acting awards went to Rachel Weisz (Best Supporting Actress for The Constant Gardener), George Clooney (Best Supporting Actor for Syriana), Reese Witherspoon (Best Actress for Walk the Line) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Best Actor for Capote).

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

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Tony Figueroa

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