Monday, March 31, 2014

This Week in Television History: April 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.

April 1, 1949
The first TV variety show starring an African-American cast debuts. The show, Happy Pappy, starred Ray Grant as master of ceremonies. It first aired on local television in Chicago.

April 2, 1974
The 46th Academy Awards Streaker. 

While David Niven was introducing Elizabeth Taylor to present the award for Best Picture, a streaker named Robert Opel ran out from backstage, causing spontaneous laughter. David Niven tookcontrol of the situation by saying, “Isn't it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”

April 3, 1924
Doris Day is born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff. Day began her career as a big band singer in 1939. Her popularity began to rise after her first hit recording, “Sentimental Journey“, in 1945. After leaving Les Brown & His Band of Renown to try a solo career, she started her long-lasting partnership with Columbia Records, which would remain her only recording label. The contract lasted from 1947 to 1967, and included more than 650 recordings, making Day one of the most popular and acclaimed singers of the 20th century. In 1948, after being persuaded by Sammy CahnJule Styne and her agent at the time, Al Levy, she auditioned for Michael Curtiz, which led to her being cast in the female lead role in Romance on the High Seas
When third husband Martin Melcher died on April 20, 1968, a shocked Day discovered that Melcher and his business partner Jerome Bernard Rosenthal had squandered her earnings, leaving her deeply in debt. Rosenthal had been her attorney since 1949, when he represented her in her uncontested divorce action against her second husband, saxophonist George W. Weidler. In February 1969, Day filed suit against Rosenthal and won the then-largest civil judgment (over $20 million) in the state of California. (She later settled for about one-quarter of the amount originally awarded.)
Day also learned that Melcher had committed her to a television series, which became The Doris Day Show.
Day hated the idea of doing television, but felt obliged to it. ”There was a contract. I didn’t know about it. I never wanted to do TV, but I gave it 100 percent anyway. That’s the only way I know how to do it.” The first episode of The Doris Day Show aired on September 24, 1968, and, from 1968 to 1973, employed “Que Sera, Sera” as its theme song. Day grudgingly persevered (she needed the work to help pay off her debts), but only after CBS ceded creative control to her and her son. The successful show enjoyed a five-year run (its second season finished in the Top 10 of the Nielsen ratings), and functioned as a curtain-raiser for The Carol Burnett Show. It is remembered today for its abrupt season-to-season changes in casting and premise. It was not widely syndicated as many of its contemporaries were, and was re-broadcast very little outside the United States, Australia and the UK. By the end of its run in 1973, public tastes had changed and her firmly established persona regarded as passé. She largely retired from acting after The Doris Day Show, but did complete two television specials, The Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff Special (1971) and Doris Day to Day (1975). 

April 3, 1944
Tony Orlando is born Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis. Born to a Greek father and a Puerto Rican mother, he spent his earliest years in Manhattan, New York’s then-notorious Hell’s Kitchen. In his teenage years, the family moved to Union City and later, Hasbrouck Heights in New Jersey.
Best known as the lead singer of the group Tony Orlando and Dawn in the early 1970s.
Discovered by producer Don Kirshner, Orlando had songs on the charts in 1961 when he was 16, “Halfway to Paradise” and “Bless You”. Orlando then became a producer himself, and at an early age was promoted to a vice-president position at CBS Records, where he was in charge of the April-Blackwood Music division. He sang under the name “Dawn” in the 1970s, and when the songs became hits, he went on tour and the group became “Tony Orlando and Dawn”. They had several songs which were major hits including “Candida“, “Knock Three Times“, and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree“.

April 4, 1969
The CBS Television Network fired The Smothers Brothers because the brothers failed to submit an episode of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour to network executives before its broadcast.

The network claimed the second to last show of the season was turned in late, and claimed that their tardiness constituded a breach of contract justifying their dropping of the series. The network ultimately refused to run the episode anyway because they said it "would be considered irreverent and offensive by a large segment of our audience". That episode is on the Smothers Brothers: The Best of Season 3 DVD.

The variety show was well known for its censorship battles with the network. The network executives often objected to the brothers' selection of controversial, outspoken, left wing, and antiwar guests, including: 
Pete Seeger, who had been invited to appear on the Smothers' second season premiere to sing his anti-war song, "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.” Seeger would later apear on the show and sang that song. 

Harry Belafonte was scheduled to do a calypso song called "Don't Stop the Carnival" with images from the riots at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention behind him. The Song was cut and the time was sold to the Nixon campaign but can now be seen on the season 3 DVD.
Joan Baez wanted to dedicate a song to her draft-resisting husband who was about to go to prison for his stance. The dedication to her husband made the air but the reason for the dedication did not.
Dr. Benjamin Spock, noted baby doctor and anti-war activist, was prevented from appearing as a guest of the show because, according to the network, he was a "convicted felon."
Under the category of irreverent and offensive, we have:
David Steinberg’s satirical sermonettes caused controversy for being sacrilegious. His second sermonette was in the episode that never aired.

Leigh French created the recurring hippie character, Goldie O'Keefe, whose parody of afternoon advice shows for housewives, "Share a Little Tea with Goldie," was actually one long celebration of mind-altering drugs. (Tea" was a counter culture code word for marijuana, but the CBS censors seemed to be unaware of the connection). Goldie would open her sketches with, "Hi(gh)– and glad of it!"
Elaine May wrote a skit about censorship that featured Tom and Elaine who playing motion picture censors trying to find a more acceptable substitution for unacceptable dialogue. The skit ended up being censored.

Tom and Dick Smothers assembled the old Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour gang in February 1988 for a 20th reunion special on CBS. Now the network wanted the brothers and company to be edgy and controversial but no one associated with the show was interested. After all when the establishment tells you something is cool... It's no longer cool.

In 1968 when it came time to submit the names of the writers for Emmy considerations, Tom refused to include his name for fear that he had become too controversial and it would hurt the show’s chances of winning. The show won the Emmy for outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy Variety that year.

Almost 40 Years later (Sunday, September 21st 2008) during the live television broadcast of the 60th Annual Emmy Awards, Tom Smothers received an Emmy acknowledging his contributions as a writer on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour”. Steve Martin, who was one of the Emmy winning writers on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, presented Tom with a commemorative Emmy acknowledging his role in the writing of a variety show.

April 5, 1949
Fireside Theatre starts. Fireside Theatre, one of TV's first dramatic series to be filmed rather than broadcast live, debuts. 

The show ran until 1958 and was revived for one year in 1963. For the first year, each film was only 15 minutes long, but later the time slot expanded to 30 minutes. Jane Wyman, who was married to Ronald Reagan between 1940 and 1948, served as host from 1955 to 1958 and during the 1963 revival.

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

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa