Monday, October 24, 2011

This Week in Television History: October 2011 Part IV

Listen to me on me on TV CONFIDENTIAL:

Realms of Music
Wednesday 9/7
9pm ET, 6pm PT

Share-a-Vision Radio
Friday 9/9
7pm ET, 4pm PT
10pm ET, 7pm PT

KWDJ 1360-AM
Ridgecrest, Calif.
Saturday 9/10
Following Dodgers baseball
Tuesday 9/13
11:05pm ET, 8:05pm PT

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.

October 26, 1946

Pat Sajak born is born in Chicago.  
Wheel of Fortune, which debuted in 1975, became the longest-running syndicated game show on American television, turning Sajak and his co-host, Vanna White, into pop-culture icons.

After attending Chicago’s Columbia College, Sajak joined the Army in 1968 and went to Vietnam, where he was a disc jockey for Armed Forces Radio in Saigon. After his discharge from the military, he worked in radio and TV and in 1977 became a weatherman for a Los Angeles TV station. In 1981, Wheel of Fortune’s creator, Merv Griffin (who also developed the long-running game show Jeopardy!, which debuted in 1964) tapped Sajak to take over hosting duties from Chuck Woolery for a network daytime version of Wheel. In 1983, Wheel of Fortune became a syndicated evening program. It has remained on the air continuously since that time, with Sajak and White as co-hosts.

During each episode of Wheel of Fortune, contestants compete to solve word puzzles. Players spin the big wheel to determine prize money and each player can buy vowels to help solve the puzzle. White stands next to the puzzleboard and reveals the individual letters when players have guessed them correctly. Born Vanna Marie Rosich on February 18, 1957, White was raised in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She attended the Atlanta School of Fashion Design and worked as a model before heading to Los Angeles to pursue acting. In 1982, the blonde beauty was selected to join Sajak on Wheel of Fortune. The first letter she ever turned on the puzzleboard was a “T.” In 1992, the Guinness Book of World Records named White “Television’s Most Frequent Clapper,” crediting her with an average of 720 claps per show.

Each year, more than 3,000 people audition to become contestants on Wheel of Fortune, while fewer than 500 make the final cut. During its 25 years of syndication, Wheel of Fortune has given over $180 million in cash and prizes to its contestants.

As for longevity, while Jeopardy! debuted in 1964, it has not aired continuously since then. Jeopardy! first aired from 1964 to 1975, then went off the air. It returned briefly, from 1978 to 1979, and was revived again in 1984, when Alex Trebek became host of a syndicated edition of the show. The longest-running game show in network or syndication is The Price is Right. The show originally aired on network TV from 1956 to 1965. A syndicated version of The Price is Right premiered in 1972, with Bob Barker as host. Barker remained with the show until his retirement at the age of 83 in 2007. Comedian Drew Carrey took over hosting duties beginning in October 2007.

October 28, 1950

Popular radio personality Jack Benny moves to television with The Jack Benny Show. The TV version of the show ran for the next 15 years.

Jack Benny was born Benjamin Kubelsky in 1894. His father, a Lithuanian immigrant, ran a saloon in Waukegan, Illinois, near Chicago. Benny began playing violin at age six and continued through high school. He began touring on the vaudeville circuit in 1917. In 1918, he joined the navy and was assigned to entertain the troops with his music but soon discovered a flair for comedy as well. After World War I, Benny returned to vaudeville as a comedian and became a top act in the 1920s. In 1927, he married an actress named Sadye Marks; the couple stayed together until Benny's death in 1974.

Benny's success in vaudeville soon won him attention from Hollywood, where he made his film debut in Hollywood Revue of 1929. Over the years, he won larger roles, notably in Charley's Aunt (1941) and To Be or Not to Be (1942). Movies were only a sideline for Benny, though, who found his natural medium in radio in 1932.

In March 1932, then-newspaper columnist Ed Sullivan, dabbling in radio, asked Benny to do an on-air interview. Benny reluctantly agreed. His comedy, though, was so successful that Benny was offered his own show almost immediately, which debuted just a few months later. At first a mostly musical show with a few minutes of Benny's comedy during interludes, the show evolved to become mostly comedy, incorporating well-developed skits and regular characters. In many of these skits, Benny portrayed himself as a vain egomaniac and notorious pinchpenny who refused to replace his (very noisy) antique car and who kept his money in a closely guarded vault. His regulars included his wife, whose character, Mary Livingstone, deflated Benny's ego at every opportunity; Mel Blanc, who used his famous voice to play Benny's noisy car, his exasperated French violin teacher, and other characters; and Eddie Andersen, one of radio's first African American stars, who played Benny's long-suffering valet, Rochester Van Jones. The program ran until 1955.

In the 1950s, Benny began experimenting with television, making specials in 1950, 1951, and 1952. Starting in 1952, The Jack Benny Show aired regularly, at first once every four weeks, then every other week, then finally every week from 1960 to 1965. Benny was as big a hit on TV as on the radio. Despite the stingy skinflint image he cultivated on the air, Benny was known for his generosity and modesty in real life. He died of cancer in Beverly Hills in 1974.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

No comments: