Monday, February 25, 2013

This Week in Television History: February 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.

February 27, 2003

Children’s Television Host Fred Rogers succumbs to stomach cancer at 74. 
The talented writer and puppeteer, known to generations of children simply as “Mr. Rogers,” hosted “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” on public television for more than 30 years.
A native of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Rogers filmed the famed show in Pittsburgh, 30 miles east of his hometown. He studied early childhood development at the University of Pittsburgh and, in 1962, was ordained as Presbyterian minister with a mission to work with children and families through television. Beginning in 1954, he worked as a puppeteer on a show called “The Children’s Corner,” before beginning work on his own show, which first aired in 1968. 
Singing his well-known theme song, “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” Rogers would enter his living-room-like set at the beginning of each episode, changing his shoes and sweater. He would then take his viewers on a magical trolley ride to the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe,” where he introduced them to characters such as King Friday XIII, his wife Queen Sara Saturday, Curious X the Owl, and Henrietta Pussycat. Even in an era of slick packaging and new technology in children’s programming, Rogers found continued success by sticking to his original message—that children should love each other and themselves. He aimed to help children deal with troubling emotions, like fear and anger, as well as everyday problems, like visiting the dentist. 

Rogers composed most of his show’s songs and did much of the puppeteering and voices himself. Despite countless awards and honors, including four Emmys® and a George Foster Peabody Award, Rogers once remarked, “I have never really considered myself a TV star. I always thought I was neighbor who just came in for a visit.” He taped his last show in December 2000, but came out of retirement briefly to film public service announcements helping parents and children deal with the September 11th tragedy. One of Rogers’ trademark red sweaters now hangs in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

February 28, 1983
Last episode of M*A*S*H airs. M*A*S*H, the cynical situation comedy about doctors behind the front lines of the Korean War, airs its final episode on this day in 1983, after 11 seasons. The last episode drew 77 percent of the television viewing audience, the largest audience ever to watch a single TV show up to that time.

Set near Seoul, Korea, behind the American front lines during the Korean War, M*A*S*H was based on the 1968 novel by Richard Hooker and the 1970 film produced by 20th Century Fox and directed by Robert Altman. Its title came from the initials for the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, an isolated compound that received wounded soldiers and was staffed by the show’s cast of doctors and nurses. At the heart of M*A*S*H were the surgeons Dr. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce (Alan Alda) and Dr. “Trapper” John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers); these roles were played in the Altman movie by Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould, respectively. Hawkeye and Trapper’s foils on the TV show were Dr. Frank Burns (Larry Linville) and Senior Nurse Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan (Loretta Swit), who disapproved of the surgeons’ boozing, womanizing and disregard for military authority. Other key characters in the series were the bumbling camp commander, Lt. Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) and his clerk and right-hand-man, Corporal Walter “Radar” O’Reilly (Gary Burghoff).

M*A*S*H premiered on the CBS television network in September 1972. Under threat of cancellation during its first season because of low ratings, the show turned things around the following year, landing in the top 10 in the ratings and never dropping out of the top 20 for the rest of its run. While the show began as a thinly veiled critique of the Vietnam War, its focus switched to more character-driven plotlines after that war’s anti-climactic end, allowing the series to continue to hold the public’s attention as it developed. In the middle of the show’s tenure, Alda began to take more and more creative control, co-writing 13 episodes and directing more than 30, including the series finale. Alda became the first person ever to win Emmy Awards for acting, directing and writing for the same show.
Elements such as long-range and tracking camera shots as well as sophisticated editing techniques distinguished M*A*S*H from more traditional TV sitcoms. From the beginning, the influence of Altman’s movie was evident in the cinematic nature of the show’s camera work. In addition, each half-hour episode of M*A*S*H contained a signature mixture of dramatic and comedic plot lines, and its success marked the rise of a new genre of TV show dubbed “dramedy.”

After earning consistently high ratings throughout its 11-year run, M*A*S*H enjoyed enduring popularity in the following decades, as it became one of the world’s most syndicated shows. It also spawned an unsuccessful spin-off, AfterMASH, which CBS aired from 1983 to 1985.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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