Monday, May 30, 2011

This week in Television History: May 2011 Part V

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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.

May 30, 1908

Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and countless other Warner Bros. cartoon characters, was born in San Francisco. His parents, who ran a women's clothing business, moved with their son to Portland, Oregon, when Blanc was a child. Blanc began performing as a musician and singer on local radio programs in Portland before he was 20. In the late 1920s, he and his wife, Estelle, created a daily radio show called "Cobwebs and Nuts," which became a hit. Blanc made many other radio appearances and became a regular on Jack Benny's hit radio show, providing the sounds of Benny's ancient car (The Maxwell) and playing several other characters.

In 1937, Blanc made his debut with Warner Bros., providing the voice for a drunken bull in a short cartoon called "Picador Porky." Another actor provided the pig's voice, but Blanc later replaced him. In 1940, Bugs Bunny debuted in a short called "A Wild Hare." Blanc said he wanted the rabbit to sound tough and streetwise, so he created a comic combination of Bronx and Brooklyn accents. Other characters Blanc created for Warner Bros. included the Road Runner, Sylvester, and Tweety Bird. He performed in some 850 cartoons for Warner Bros. during his 50-year career. For other studios, he provided the voices of Barney Rubble and Dino the dinosaur in The Flintstones, Mr. Spacely for The Jetsons, and Woody Woodpecker's laugh.

In his 1988 autobiography, That's Not All Folks, Blanc described a nearly fatal traffic accident that left him in a coma. Unable to rouse him by using his real name, a doctor finally said, "How are you, Bugs Bunny?" and Mel replied, in Bugs' voice, "Ehh, just fine, doc. How are you?"

Blanc continued to provide voices until the late 1980s, most memorably voicing Daffy Duck dueling with Donald Duck in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). After Mel Blanc died of complications from heart disease, his son Noel, trained by his father, provided the voices for the characters the elder Blanc had helped bring to life.


June 1, 1980

CNN (Cable News Network), the world's first 24-hour television news network, makes its debut. The network signed on at 6 p.m. EST from its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, with a lead story about the attempted assassination of civil rights leader Vernon Jordan. CNN went on to change the notion that news could only be reported at fixed times throughout the day. At the time of CNN's launch, TV news was dominated by three major networks--ABC, CBS and NBC--and their nightly 30-minute broadcasts. Initially available in less than two million U.S. homes, today CNN is seen in more than 89 million American households and over 160 million homes internationally.

CNN was the brainchild of Robert "Ted" Turner, a colorful, outspoken businessman dubbed the "Mouth of the South." Turner was born on November 19, 1938, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and as a child moved with his family to Georgia, where his father ran a successful billboard advertising company. After his father committed suicide in 1963, Turner took over the business and expanded it. In 1970, he bought a failing Atlanta TV station that broadcast old movies and network reruns and within a few years Turner had transformed it into a "superstation," a concept he pioneered, in which the station was beamed by satellite into homes across the country. Turner later bought the Atlanta Braves baseball team and the Atlanta Hawks basketball team and aired their games on his network, TBS (Turner Broadcasting System). In 1977, Turner gained international fame when he sailed his yacht to victory in the prestigious America's Cup race.

In its first years of operation, CNN lost money and was ridiculed as the Chicken Noodle Network. However, Turner continued to invest in building up the network's news bureaus around the world and in 1983, he bought Satellite News Channel, owned in part by ABC, and thereby eliminated CNN's main competitor. CNN eventually came to be known for covering live events around the world as they happened, often beating the major networks to the punch. The network gained significant traction with its live coverage of the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the network's audience grew along with the increasing popularity of cable television during the 1990s.

In 1996, CNN merged with Time Warner, which merged with America Online four years later. Today, Ted Turner is an environmentalist and peace activist whose philanthropic efforts include a 1997 gift of $1 billion to the United Nations.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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