Monday, January 21, 2013

This Week in Television History: January 2013 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.

January 22, 1968
Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In first aired. It was hosted by comedians Dan Rowan and Dick Martin and featured, at various times, Chelsea Brown, Johnny Brown, Ruth Buzzi, Judy Carne, Richard Dawson, Henry Gibson, Arte Johnson, Goldie Hawn, Larry Hovis, Jeremy Lloyd, Dave Madden, Pigmeat Markham, Gary Owens, Pamela Rodgers, Barbara Sharma, Alan Sues, Lily Tomlin and Jo Anne Worley.
Laugh-In originally aired as a one-time special on September 9, 1967 and was such a success that it was brought back as a series, replacing The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on Mondays at 8 pm (EST). The title of the show was a play on the "love-ins" or "be-ins" of the 1960s hippie culture, terms that were, in turn, derived from "sit-ins", common in protests associated with civil rights and anti-war demonstrations of the time.
In 2002, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In was ranked #42 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.

Laugh-In had its roots in the humor of vaudeville and burlesque, but its most direct influences were from the comedy of Olsen and Johnson (specifically, their free-form Broadway revue Hellzapoppin'), the innovative television works of Ernie Kovacs, and the topical satire of That Was The Week That Was. The show was characterized by a rapid-fire series of gags and sketches, many of which conveyed sexual innuendo or were politically charged. The co-hosts continued the exasperated straight man (Rowan) and "dumb" guy (Martin) act which they had established as nightclub comics. This was a continuation of cartoonist Chic Young's "Dumb Dora", and acts from vaudeville, best popularized by Burns and Allen.

Each episode followed a somewhat similar format, often including recurring sketches. The show would start with a short dialogue between Rowan and Martin. Shortly afterward, Rowan would intone: "C'mon Dick, let's go to the party". This live-to-tape segment comprised all cast members and occasional surprise celebrities dancing before a 1960s "Mod" party backdrop, delivering one- and two-line jokes interspersed with a few bars of dance music (later adopted on The Muppet Show, which had a recurring segment that is similar to "The Cocktail Party" with absurd moments from characters). The show would then proceed through rapid-fire comedy bits, pre-taped segments, and recurring sketches.
At the end of every show, Dan Rowan turned to his co-host and said, "Say good night, Dick", to which Martin replied, "Good night, Dick!" (varying a bit from the Burns and Allen old-time radio show). The show then featured cast members opening panels in a psychedelically-painted "joke wall" and telling jokes. As the show drew to a close and the applause died, executive producer George Schlatter's solitary clapping continued even as the screen turned blank and the production logo, network chimes, and NBC logo appeared.
Although most episodes included most of the above segments, the arrangement of the segments would often be changed, so that the audience couldn't predict what was next.
The show often featured guest stars. Sometimes the guest had a prominent spot in the program, other times the guest would pop up in short "quickies" (one- or two-liner jokes) interspersed throughout the show. While the guest was available, other bits were recorded, and would be added to other episodes of the series.

Ruth Buzzi, Judy Carne, Henry Gibson, Larry Hovis, Arte Johnson and Jo Anne Worley were originally in the pilot special from 1967. Gary Owens (announcer), Eileen Brennan, Roddy Maude-Roxby, and Goldie Hawn came on in the show. Most of the cast members were not in all 14 episodes from the season. Only the two hosts, announcer, and Judy, Henry, and Arte were in all 14 episodes. Eileen only appears in half of the episodes. She, Larry, and Roddy left after the first season.
The second season saw a handful of new people, including Alan Sues, Dave Madden, and Chelsea Brown. All of the new cast members from the second season left at the end of that season, except Alan Sues who stayed on until 1972.
At the end of the 1968–1969 season, Judy Carne chose not to renew her contract, though she did make appearances during 1969–1970; producer George Schlatter blamed her for breaking up the "family." The show also survived the departures of Goldie Hawn and Jo Anne Worley to remain a top-20 show in 1970–1971. Schlatter tried to replace Hawn with other wide-eyed starlets acting dumb: first Pamela Rodgers, then Sarah Kennedy, and finally Donna Jean Young, but Hawn's ditzy characterization proved inimitable.

The third season saw several new people who only stayed on for that season, Teresa Graves, Jeremy Lloyd, Pamela Rodgers, and Stu Gilliam. Lily Tomlin joined in the middle of the season. Jo Anne Worley, Goldie Hawn, and Judy Carne left after the season.
New faces in the 1970–1971 season included tall, sad-eyed Dennis Allen, who alternately played quietly zany characters and straight man for anybody's jokes; comic actress Ann Elder, who also contributed to scripts, tap dancer Barbara Sharma, who would later appear on Rhoda, and beefy Johnny Brown, who played the superintendent Nathan "Buffalo Butt" Bookman on Good Times.
Arte Johnson, who created many characters, insisted on star billing, apart from the rest of the cast. The producer mollified him, but had announcer Gary Owens read Johnson's credit as a separate sentence: "Starring Dan Rowan and Dick Martin! And Arte Johnson! With Ruth Buzzi ..." This maneuver gave Johnson star billing, but made it sound like he was still part of the ensemble cast. Johnson left the show after the 1970–1971 season. NBC aired the pilot for his situation comedy Call Holme, but it never became a series.
Henry Gibson also departed after the 1970–1971 season. He and Johnson were replaced by Richard Dawson and Larry Hovis, both of whom had appeared occasionally in the first season. Both of them were on Hogan's Heroes. However, the loss of Johnson's many characters caused ratings to drop farther. The show celebrated its 100th episode during the 1971–1972 season, with Carne, Worley, Johnson, Gibson, Graves, and Tiny Tim all returning for the festivities. John Wayne was also on hand for his first cameo appearance since 1968.
For the show's final season (1972–1973), Rowan and Martin assumed the executive producer roles from George Schlatter (known on-air as "CFG", which stood for "Crazy Fucking George") and Ed Friendly. Except for holdovers Dawson, Owens, Buzzi, and only occasional appearances from Tomlin, a new cast was brought in. This final season featured future Match Game panelist Patti Deutsch, folksy singer-comedian Jud Strunk, and ventriloquist act Willie Tyler and Lester. Deutsch, Strunk, and Tyler caught on to the spirit of the show and made valuable contributions (Deutsch did celebrity impressions — in the presence of the celebrity — and took over Worley's role in "The Farkel Family"). The shows were still amusing, but without the usual gang, viewers didn't respond as they once had.
These last shows never aired in the edited half-hour rerun syndicated (through Lorimar Productions) to local stations in 1983 and later aired on Nick at Nite. The cable network Trio started airing the show in its original one-hour form in the early 2000s, but only the pilot and the first 69 episodes (extending to the fourth episode of the 1970–1971 season) were included in Trio's package. Two "Best-of" DVD packages are also available; they only contain six episodes each.
Of over three dozen entertainers to grace the cast, only Rowan, Martin, Owens and Buzzi were there from beginning to end. However, Owens was not in the 1967 pilot and Buzzi missed two first-season episodes.
Lily Tomlin and Goldie Hawn later became noted film stars (Hawn won an Academy Award while still a member of the cast; Tomlin was later nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1975 for Nashville). Henry Gibson later co-starred in the Robert Altman film Nashville and was nominated for a Golden Globe. Ruth Buzzi became a regular on the Sesame Street children's television series. Dave Madden, whose trademark was to throw confetti (representing an unspoken impure thought) while keeping a dour expression at the punchline of a joke, played Reuben Kincaid on the television sitcom The Partridge Family. Richard Dawson, who previously had a regular supporting role on the sitcom Hogan's Heroes, went on to success on the game shows Match Game and Family Feud. Larry Hovis, also a regular on Hogan's Heroes, appeared on Laugh-In during the first and the fifth seasons. Teresa Graves parlayed her season on the show into the title role of the police drama Get Christie Love! Flip Wilson took Geraldine and his other characters to his own variety show from 1970 through 1974.

Laugh-In writers included: George Schlatter, Jack Mendelsohn, Lorne Michaels, Phil Hahn, Jim Mulligan, Jack Hanrahan, Gene Farmer, Jim Abell, Bill Richmond, Don Reo, Allan Katz, Jack Wohl, Larry Siegel, John Rappaport, Allan Manings, Jack Margolis, Bob Howard, John Jay Carsey, Richard Goren (also credited as Rowby Greeber and Rowby Goren), Chris Bearde (credited as Chris Beard), Chet Dowling, David Panich, Marc London, Paul Keyes,[3] Dave Cox, Jack Kaplan, Stephen Spears, Hugh Wedlock Jr., Coslough Johnson (Arte Johnson's twin brother), Hart Pomerantz, Barry Took, Digby Wolfe, Jeremy Lloyd.
The Musical Director for Laugh-In was Ian Bernard. Ian Bernard wrote the opening theme music, plus the infamous "What's the news across the nation" number. Ian Bernard also wrote all the cute musical "play-ons" that introduced comedy sketches like Lilly Tomlin's little girl character who sat in a giant rocking chair, and Arte Johnson's old man who always got hit with a purse. Ian Bernard also appeared in many of the cocktail scenes where he directed the band as they stopped and started between jokes. Composer-lyricist Billy Barnes, who wrote all of the original musical production numbers in the show. Barnes is the creator of the famous Billy Barnes Revues of the 1950s and 1960s, and composed such popular hits as "(Have I Stayed) Too Long at the Fair" recorded by Barbra Streisand and the jazz standard "Something Cool" recorded by June Christy.
The show was recorded at NBC's Burbank facility using two-inch quadruplex videotape. Since computer-controlled online editing had not been invented at the time, post-production video editing of the montage was achieved by the error-prone method of visualizing the recorded track with ferrofluid and cutting it with a razor blade or guillotine cutter and splicing with video tape, in a manner similar to film editing. This had the incidental benefit of ensuring that the master tape would be preserved, since a spliced tape could not be recycled for further use. Laugh-In Editor Arthur Schneider won an Emmy Award in 1968 for his pioneering use of the "jump cut" – the unique editing style in which a sudden cut from one shot to another was made without a fade-out.
During the September 16, 1968 episode, Richard Nixon, running for president, appeared for a few seconds with a disbelieving vocal inflection, asking "Sock it to me?" Nixon was not doused or assaulted. An invitation was extended to Nixon's opponent, Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, but he declined. According to George Schlatter, the show's creator, "Humphrey later said that not doing it may have cost him the election", and "[Nixon] said the rest of his life that appearing on Laugh-In is what got him elected. And I believe that. And I've had to live with that."

In 1977, Schlatter and NBC briefly revived the property as a series of specials – entitled simply Laugh-In – with a new cast, including former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner. The standout was a then-unknown Robin Williams, whose starring role on ABC's Mork & Mindy one year later prompted NBC to rerun the specials as a summer series in 1979. Rowan and Martin, who owned part of the Laugh-In franchise, were not involved in this project. They sued Schlatter for using the format without their permission, and won a judgment of $4.6 million in 1980.

January  23, 1983
The A-Team debuts on NBC. 
In the pilot episode of the NBC television series The A-Team, the go-getting newspaper reporter Amy Allen (Melinda Culea) seeks the help of a mysterious group of Vietnam-veterans-turned-soldiers-for-hire to find her missing colleague in Mexico. An elite commando unit in Vietnam, the so-called A-Team was wrongly imprisoned by the Army. They escaped and began working as mercenaries, doing whatever needed to be done for their various clients while consistently eluding the fanatic Army officers sent to catch them. The A-Team went on to become a huge hit and make a star of the-then little known actor Mr. T.
Produced by Stephen Cannell and first envisioned by Brandon Tartikoff, NBC’s president, as a volatile combination between films such as The Dirty Dozen, The Magnificent Seven and The Road Warrior and TV programs such as Hill Street Blues, The A-Team became a bona fide phenomenon during its five-year run. Despite its late entry to the 1982-83 ratings season, The A-Team was on its way to a No. 1 ranking by season’s end. It also topped a list of the most violent shows on TV, compiled that year by the National Coalition on Television Violence.

George Peppard, who memorably starred opposite Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), played the A-Team’s leader, John “Hannibal” Smith; he called his A-Team role “probably the best part I’ve had in my career.” The show also featured Dirk Benedict as Templeton “Faceman” Peck and Dwight Schultz as H.M. (Howling Mad) Murdock, but its breakout star was the mohawked, gold-bedecked Mr. T. Born Laurence Tureaud in a tough Chicago neighborhood, Mr. T got into show business after winning a contest as the “World’s Toughest Bouncer.” He was spotted by Sylvester Stallone, who cast him as a boxer in Rocky III (1982). As the surly A-Team mechanic B.A. (Bad Attitude) Baracus, Mr. T uttered some of the show’s most memorable catchphrases, including “You better watch out, sucker” and “Pity the fool.”
Campy and outrageously violent, The A-Team was particularly popular among children and teenagers, and with male audiences. Over the years, the show’s producers experimented with adding a woman to the mix--including Culea’s Amy Allen, Marla Heasley as Tawnia Baker and Tia Carrere (who later starred in Wayne’s World) as a Vietnam war orphan meant to provide a link to the soldiers’ past--but these stints were relatively short-lived, and the team’s testosterone-heavy vibe remained intact. By its fourth season, the show’s popularity was waning, due partially to its formulaic nature and partially to the growing trend towards family-friendly comedy that was being driven by the success of The Cosby Show. In the spring of 1986, Cosby-inspired shows such as Who’s the Boss? and Growing Pains on ABC were beating The A-Team handily in the ratings each week.

A-Team producers tried different tricks to win audiences over, including one episode centered on the popular game show Wheel of Fortune and various guest appearances by such prominent personalities as the pop star Boy George, the professional wrestler Hulk Hogan and the Chicago Bears defensive lineman William “Refrigerator” Perry. The show hung on into a fifth season, but aired only 13 episodes, ending unceremoniously in March 1987.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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