Monday, December 30, 2013

This Week in Television History: January 2014 PART I

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 30, 1959
Comedian Tracey Ullman is born in Hackbridge, England. 
She attended theater school from ages 12 to 16. At age 21, she began performing with an avant-garde drama group, the Royal Court Theater, where she won rave reviews. She landed her own U.S. TV show in 1987. 

The Emmy-winning Tracey Ullman Show ran from 1987 to 1990. The show featured short skits starring Ullman and a regular cast of players, and also aired short animated segments-one was an offbeat cartoon about underachieving 10-year-old named Bart Simpson and his oddball family. The cartoon was later spun off into its own hit show, The Simpsons.

December 30th, 1963

Lets Make a Deal debuted on NBC.  

Let's Make a Deal is a television game show which originated in the United States and has since been produced in many countries throughout the world. The show is based around deals offered to members of the audience by the host. The traders usually have to weigh the possibility of an offer for valuable prizes, or undesirable items, referred to as "Zonks". Let's Make a Deal is also known for the various unusual and crazy costumes worn by audience members, who dressed up that way in order to increase their chances of being selected as a trader.[2] The show was hosted for many years by Monty Hall, who co-created and co-produced the show with Stefan Hatos. The current version is hosted by Wayne Brady, with Jonathan Mangum (announcer), Danielle Demski (model), and Cat Gray (live musician) assisting.

January 3, 1949
Colgate sponsors the early anthology series, Colgate Theater. Like most dramatic programming at the time, the show consisted of weekly plays and/or scripts adapted for television. Among many other stories, the show produced two of the earliest TV adaptations of radio programs: Vic and Sade and Mr. and Mrs. North.

January 4, 1984

The first episode of Night Court aired on NBC. The setting was the night shift of a Manhattan court, presided over by the young, unorthodox Judge Harold T. "Harry" Stone (played by Harry Anderson). It was created by comedy writer Reinhold Weege, who had previously worked on Barney Miller in the 1970s and early 1980s. 

Anderson had developed a following with his performances on Saturday Night Live and made several successful appearances as con man "Harry the Hat" on another NBC sitcom, Cheers. (For the first several years of its run, Night Court aired on NBC Thursday nights after Cheers.) 

In later seasons, while Anderson remained the key figure, John Larroquette became the breakout personality, winning a number of awards and many fans for his performance as the lecherous Dan Fielding.

The comedy style on Night Court changed as the series progressed. During its initial seasons, the show was often compared to Barney Miller. In addition to being created by a writer of that show, Night Court (like Barney Miller) was set in New York City, featured quirky, often dry humor, and dealt with a staff who tried to cope with a parade of eccentric, often neurotic criminals and complainants. Furthering this comparison, these characters were routinely played by character actors who had made frequent guest appearances on Barney Miller, including Stanley Brock, Philip Sterling, Peggy Pope, and Alex Henteloff

But while the characters appearing in the courtroom (and the nature of their transgressions) were often whimsical, bizarre or humorously inept, the show initially took place in the 'real world'. In an early review of the show, Time magazine called Night Court, with its emphasis on non-glamorous, non-violent petty crime, the most realistic law show on the air.

Gradually, however, Night Court abandoned its initial "real world" setting, and changed to what could best be described as broad, almost slapstick comedy. Logic and realism were frequently sidelined for more surreal humor, such as having the cartoon character, Wile E. Coyote, as a defendant and convicting him for harassment of the Road Runner with an admonition to find a meal by some other means.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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