Monday, December 24, 2012

This Week in Television History: December 2012 PART IV

Listen to me on TV CONFIDENTIAL:
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.
December 27, 1927
Agnes Nixon, “Queen of Modern Soap Opera,” born in Chicago.

Soap operas originated in the 1930s as short radio programs, and got their name from the fact that soap manufacturers such as Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive frequently served as sponsors. In the early 1950s, soap operas moved to TV and aired during the day, when they were watched primarily by housewives. After graduating from Northwestern University, Agnes Nixon worked during the 1950s and 1960s as a writer for such soaps as Search for Tomorrow, As the World Turns, Another World and The Guiding Light, TV’s longest-running soap, which began as a radio show in the 1930s and was later known simply as Guiding Light.
Nixon went on to create One Life to Live, which debuted in 1968 and centered around two families--one wealthy, one poor--in the fictional town of Llanview, Pennsylvania. According to The Soap Opera Encyclopedia, One Life to Live was “the first serial to present a vast array of ethnic types, broad comic situations, a constant emphasis on social issues, and strong male characters.” The show’s main character, Victoria Lord (played by Erica Sleazak since 1971), has suffered a long list of health problems, including cancer and dissociative identity disorder, and has also been forced to contend with such issues as divorce, rape and widowhood.

In 1970, Nixon’s second soap creation, All My Children, premiered. With Nixon heading up the writing team, All My Children, which was set in the fictional town of Pine Valley, Pennsylvania, tackled a wide range of social issues, from anti-Vietnam War sentiment in the 1970s to drug addiction, depression, child abuse and, starting in the late 1980s, the deadly AIDS epidemic. Although topical, provocative storylines are now standard fare for daytime dramas, at the time Nixon began writing her work was trailblazing. In the early 1970s, one of All My Children’s main characters, Erica Kane, played by Susan Lucci since the show’s inception, was the first daytime character to have a legal abortion. In 2000, Nixon created a storyline in which another major character, Erica’s daughter Bianca, comes out as a lesbian; she later shares the first lesbian kiss on daytime TV.

In addition to One Life to Live and All My Children, Nixon is also a co-creator of Loving, w December 28, 1954hich aired from 1983 to 1995 and was then renamed The City, which ran until 1997.

December 29, 1947
Ted Danson is born in San Diego, California.

After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, where he studied drama, Danson appeared on the 1970s soap opera Somerset and starred in TV commercials, most notably for the men’s fragrance Aramis. Danson catapulted to Hollywood stardom with his role as Sam Malone, a former professional baseball player and ladies man who runs a Boston-based bar called Cheers in the sitcom of the same name. The show, which premiered on NBC on September 30, 1982, and opened with the now-classic theme song “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” centers around a group of regulars who hang out at Cheers, including lovable but dim-witted bartender Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson), know-it-all mailman Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger), frequently unemployed Norm Peterson (George Wendt), feisty waitress Carla (Rhea Perlman) and snooty psychiatrist Fraser Crane (Kelsey Grammer). (Crane later got his own long-running sitcom, Frasier, which originally aired from 1993 to 2004). Among the main storylines on Cheers were Sam Malone’s lengthy on-again, off-again romantic relationships with waitress-grad student Diane Chambers (Shelley Long, who was a Cheers cast member from 1982-1987) and businesswoman Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley, a regular from 1987-1993). During its 11-season run, Cheers featured guest appearances by a number of celebrities and public figures, including Johnny Carson, then-Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill and Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek.

Created by James Burrows and brothers Glen and Les Charles, Cheers was almost cancelled due to poor ratings during its first season; it hung on, however, and eventually became a massive hit with audiences. The show was nominated for a total of more than 100 Emmy Awards, and it won 28. The final episode of Cheers aired on May 20, 1993, and attracted more than 80 million viewers, making it one of the top-rated finales in TV history. (The all-time record holder, the 1983 M*A*S*H finale, was seen by some 106 million people, while more than 76 million viewers tuned in to the 1998 finale of Seinfeld.)

Following Cheers, Danson starred as a cranky doctor in the TV sitcom Becker, which aired on CBS from 1998 to 2004. Among his more recent TV credits are recurring roles on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Damages. Danson has also appeared in a number of movies, including 1979’s The Onion Field, which marked his big-screen debut; 1981’s Body Heat, featuring Kathleen Turner and William Hurt; the 1987 hit comedy Three Men and a Baby, with Tom Selleck and Steve Guttenberg; Made in America (1993), which co-starred Danson’s then-paramour Whoopi Goldberg; and Saving Private Ryan (1998). Danson has been married to his third wife, the actress Mary Steenburgen (Melvin and Howard, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Elf) since 1995.
To quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was".

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Tony Figueroa
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