Monday, September 19, 2011

This Week in Television History: September 2011 PART III

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As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and 0.
legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.

September 23, 1961

Weekly TV movie program Saturday Night at the Movies debuts on NBC, starting with the 1953 film How to Marry a Millionaire.

The program was the first major network initiative to broadcast recent movies on the air. Although movies from the 1930s and '40s had appeared on TV, the networks had resisted showing more recent films. Until the 1960s, a fierce rivalry existed between the television and movie industries, and neither wanted to promote the other. However, with the success of Saturday Night at the Movies, relatively recent films became a staple of TV programming.

September 24, 1936

Muppet creator Jim Henson is born in Greenville, Mississippi.

Henson joined a puppet club in high school and used his skills to land a job at a local TV station between high school and college. His homemade puppets delighted audiences, and during his freshman year at the University of Maryland the TV station gave him his own five minute show, called Sam and Friends. The show ran twice a day, just before popular news show the Huntley-Brinkley Report and again before the Tonight Show with Steve Allen. Henson's program ran for eight years and won a local Emmy in 1958.

In 1955, Henson took an old green coat of his mother's, attached two halves of a ping-pong ball for eyes, and created a lizard-like character named Kermit, who later evolved into Kermit the Frog. Other familiar characters took shape on Sam and Friends, as Henson's Muppets multiplied. In 1957, Henson made the first of more than 300 TV commercials for Wilkins Coffee. In 1963 Rowlf the Dog became a regular on variety program The Jimmy Dean Show, which ran until 1966.

Henson showed an interest in filmmaking in the mid 1960s, making a short film called Timepiece in 1965, which was nominated for an Oscar. A few years later, he met Joan Ganz Cooney, a TV producer heading up a study of children and television at a seminar for educators in Boston. Ganz was formulating an idea for a kids' TV program she called The Preschool Educational Television Show, and she quickly persuaded Henson and his Muppets to join her. The show, with its new, snappier title, Sesame Street, was launched in 1969, and generations of children fell in love with Big Bird, Kermit the Frog, Ernie and Bert, Oscar the Grouch, Grover, Cookie Monster, and many other Henson creations.

After seven years of children's television, Henson wanted to explore more sophisticated possibilities for his Muppets. He shopped around an idea for a variety show starring Kermit, but none of the networks were interested. Undeterred, Henson created The Muppet Show as a syndicated series, which became the world's most watched TV show, with 235 million viewers in more than 100 countries. The program ran from 1976 to 1981 and won three Emmys. Meanwhile, the Muppets launched a movie career in 1979 with The Muppet Movie, followed by The Great Muppet Caper (1981) and The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984).

Other, less familiar Henson creatures appeared in The Dark Crystal (1982) and Labyrinth (1986) with David Bowie, as well as in two cable TV series, Fraggle Rock and The Ghost of Faffner Hall. His Saturday morning cartoon, Jim Henson's Muppet Babies, was launched in 1984 and won four Emmys. Henson died of pneumonia in 1990.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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