Monday, January 02, 2012

This Week in Television History: January 2012 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.

January 3, 1932

Dabney Wharton Coleman is born. 
He is best known for his abrasive characters and his usually present mustache.
Back on September 16, 1963, Coleman appeared in the series premiere of an ABC medical drama about psychiatry, Breaking Point with Paul Richards and Eduard Franz. He also was seen on two other medical dramas of that period, Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare.
Coleman was so in demand as a TV guest star that he did multiple episodes of popular series: The Fugitive (four), That Girl (nine), The Outer Limits (three), Barnaby Jones (five), Twilve O'Clock High (two) and The F.B.I. (nine), by way of example. Having played a detective in a 1973 episode of Columbo, Coleman 18 years later returned to that series in a leading role as a murderer.
He appeared as Mayor Merle Jeeter in the original Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976) and its spinoff of the following year, Fernwood 2 Night.
Many remember the actor for his starring roles in two TV cult classics, Buffalo Bill and The Slap Maxwell Story. Each of these series asked audiences to embrace Coleman's own charisma and comic timing as compensation for his character's lack of character, whether he be a conceited television host or a self-obsessed sportswriter.
In 1991, Coleman played public interest attorney William John Cox in the Turner Network Television dramatization of the "Holocaust Denial Case, Never Forget.
More recent television characters have a well-timed, dry wit, which seem to come to Coleman naturally. He played a more sympathetic one than usual in The Guardian and guest-starred on a 2009 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, more than 40 years since the actor's earliest work on TV.
In 1999, Coleman voice-acted in a number of episodes of the Disney Channel series Recess, playing a character named Principal Prickly.

January 3, 1952
Dragnet debuts, launching a long legacy of realistic police drama on TV. 

Dragnet, which began as a popular radio program in 1949, boosted the popularity of the series format on TV.
Until Dragnet's TV debut, variety shows and comedy hours had dominated prime time programming. Most television drama appeared on hour-long anthology shows like Kraft Television Theater, featuring unrelated stories and different casts every week. In fact, Dragnet itself first appeared on TV as a drama on an anthology show called Chesterfield Sound-Off Time in December 1951.
The brainchild of actor-director Jack Webb--who starred as Sgt. Joe Friday--Dragnet was one of the first series to be filmed in Hollywood, not New York. Webb narrated the shows in a deadpan, documentary style, turning "just the facts, ma'am" into a national catchphrase. Barton Yarborough, a cast member in the radio series, played Friday's sidekick Sgt. Ben Romero on TV but died of a heart attack shortly after the first telecast. Over the years, Friday had three different sidekick characters, played by Barney Phillips, Herb Ellis, Ben Alexander, and Harry Morgan.
Episodes were based on real cases from the Los Angeles Police Department, and each half-hour segment concluded with the capture of the perpetrator, followed by a short update on what happened at the suspect's trial. The show inspired two hit records in 1953, one based on the show's familar "dum-de-dum-dum" theme music. The other was a novelty song called "St. George and the Dragonet," which spoofed the show's opening monologue.
During Dragnet's first year, the show ran every other Thursday, then ran weekly until it ended in the fall of 1959. The show was resurrected in 1967 under the name Dragnet '67 and ran for another two years, dropping its emphasis on high-intensity crime to focus on citizens in distress and community service. In 1987, Dragnet was revived again, as a spoof, in a feature film starring Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks. The TV show reappeared two years later as a syndicated series, airing in the 1989-90 season in New York and Los Angeles only, then nationally syndicated the following season.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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