Monday, October 05, 2015

This Week in Television History: October 2015 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.

October 5, 1950
The game show You Bet Your Life, starring host Groucho Marx, airs its first TV episode. 
The show had debuted on radio in 1947. Thanks to Marx's sarcastic humor and improvised wisecracks, the show became a hit first on radio and then on television. The show ran until 1961.

October 5, 1990
20/20 Buckwheat Hoax
The ABC newsmagazine 20/20 aired a segment purporting to be an interview with Buckwheat, then a grocery bagger in Arizona. However, the interview was actually with a man named Bill English, who claimed to be the adult Buckwheat. English's appearance prompted public objections from George McFarland, who contacted media outlets following the broadcast to declare that he knew the true Buckwheat to have been dead for 10 years. Confronted directly by McFarland on the television newsmagazine A Current Affair, English refused to retreat from his claim, maintaining that he had originated the role of Buckwheat, with other actors playing the character only after he had left it. The next week, 20/20 acknowledged on-air English's claim had been false and apologized for the interview. Fallout from this incident included the resignation of a 20/20 producer, and a negligence lawsuit filed by the son of William Thomas. English died in 1994.

October 6, 2000
The first episode of CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation aired. 

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (also referred to as both CSI and CSI: Las Vegas) is an American crime drama television seriescreated by Anthony E. Zuiker and executive produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. It premiered on October 6, 2000 on CBS, and was filmed primarily at Universal Studios in Universal City, California.
During its fifteen years in production, CSI secured an estimated world audience of over 73.8 million viewers (in 2009), commanded, as of the fall of 2008, an average cost of $262,600 for a 30-second commercial, and reached milestone episodes including the 100th ("Ch-Ch-Changes"), the 200th ("Mascara") and the 300th ("Frame by Frame"). CSI spawned three spin-off series: CSI: MiamiCSI: NY, and CSI: Cyber; a book series; several video games; and an exhibit at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. At the time of its cancellation, CSI was the seventh longest-running scripted U.S. primetime TV series overall and had been recognized as the most popular dramatic series internationally by the Festival de Télévision de Monte-Carlo, which awarded the series the "International Television Audience Award (Best Television Drama Series)" three times. CSI became the second most-watched show on American television by 2002, and was later named the most-watched show in the world for the fifth time in 2012. It has won nine awards.

October 7, 1950
The Frank Sinatra Show debuted. 

This was Sinatra's second attempt at a television series, his first was The Frank Sinatra Show on CBS Television between 1950-52.
The series was originally slated to consist of thirteen variety episodes, thirteen dramas starring Sinatra, and ten dramas hosted by Sinatra, filmed at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood rather than broadcast live. Sinatra was paid $3 million for the series, and granted near total artistic freedom.
The drama segments of the show fared less well against the variety episodes in ratings and the final total was fourteen live variety shows, eight filmed variety shows, four dramas starring Sinatra, and six dramas hosted by Sinatra. Rather than 36 episodes for the season, ABC cut its losses and reduced the total number to 32.
Sinatra hated rehearsing, and tried to make eleven shows in fifteen days; the series subsequently received a critical mauling and was Sinatra's last attempt at a television series.

October 7, 1960
Route 66 primered. The show ran weekly on CBS from 1960 to 1964. It starred Martin Milner as Tod Stiles and, for two and a half seasons, George Maharis as Buz Murdock. Maharis was ill for much of the third season, during which time Tod was shown traveling on his own. Tod met Lincoln Case, played by Glenn Corbett, late in the third season, and traveled with him until the end of the fourth and final season.
The series is best remembered for its Corvette convertible and its instrumental theme song (composed and performed by Nelson Riddle), which became a major pop hit.
Route 66 was a hybrid between episodic television drama, which has continuing characters and situations, and the anthology format (e.g., The Twilight Zone), in which each week's show has a completely different cast and story. Route 66 had just three continuing characters, no more than two of whom appeared in the same episode. Like Richard Kimble from The Fugitive, the wanderers would move from place to place and get caught up in the struggles of the people there. Unlike Kimble, nothing was forcing them to stay on the move except their own sense of adventure, thus making it thematically closer to Run for Your Life, Movin' On, and Then Came Bronson. Later examples of this traveling protagonist format are programs such as Bearcats!, Quantum Leap, The Incredible Hulk, The A-Team, and Supernatural.
This semi-anthology concept, where the drama is centered on the guest stars rather than the regular cast, was carried over from series creator Stirling Silliphant's previous drama Naked City (1958-1963). Both shows were recognized for their literate scripts and rich characterizations. The open-ended format, featuring two roaming observers/facilitators, gave Silliphant and the other writers an almost unlimited landscape for presenting a wide variety of dramatic (or comedic) story lines. Virtually any tale could be adapted to the series. The two regulars merely had to be worked in and the setting tailored to fit the location. The two men take odd jobs along their journey, like toiling in a California vineyard or manning a Maine lobster boat, bringing them in contact with dysfunctional families or troubled individuals in need of help.
Tod and Buz (and later, Linc) symbolized restless youth searching for meaning in the early 1960s, but they were essentially non-characters. We learn almost nothing about them over the course of the series. All we are told is that, after the death of his father, Tod Stiles inherits a new Corvette and decides to drive across America with his friend Buz. Tod, portrayed by clean-cut Martin Milner, is the epitome of the decent, honest, all-American type. He is the moral anchor of the series. By contrast, the working-class Buz (George Maharis) is looser, hipper, more Beat Generation in attitude. His third-season replacement, Lincoln Case (Glenn Corbett), is a darker character, an army veteran haunted by his past. He's more introspective with a sometimes explosive temper, but is nonetheless a reliable companion on this soul-searching journey.
The series concluded in Tampa with the two-part episode "Where There's a Will, There's a Way," in which Tod Stiles got married, and he and Linc finally settled down. This made the series one of the earliest prime-time television dramas to have a planned series finale resolving the fate of its main characters.
The show was filmed and presented in black and white throughout its run. This was not unusual for early 1960s episodic TV.
U.S. Route 66 is well-remembered for its cinematography and location filming. Writer-producer Stirling Silliphant traveled the country with a location manager (Sam Manners), scouting a wide range of locales and writing scripts to match the settings. The actors and film crew would arrive a few months later. Memorable locations include a logging camp, shrimp boats, an offshore oil rig, and Glen Canyon Dam, the latter while still under construction. It is one of very few series in the history of television to be filmed entirely on the road. This was done at a time when the United States was much less homogeneous than it is now. People, their accents, livelihoods, ethnic backgrounds and attitudes varied widely from one location to the next. Scripted characters reflected a far less mobile society, in which people were more apt to spend their entire lives in one small part of the country. Similarly, the places themselves were very different from one another visually, environmentally, architecturally, in goods and services available, etc. Stars Martin Milner and George Maharis both mentioned this in 1980s interviews. "Now you can go wherever you want," Maharis added by way of contrast, "and it's a Denny's."
The roster of guest stars on Route 66 includes quite a few actors who later went on to fame and fortune, as well as major stars on the downward side of their careers. One of the most historically significant episodes of the series in this respect was "Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing." It featured Lon Chaney, Jr., Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff as themselves, with Karloff donning his famous Frankenstein monster make-up for the first time in 25 years and Chaney reprising his role as the Wolfman. The show was filmed at the O'Hare Inn, near O'Hare Airport, Chicago, Illinois. Dutch singer Ronnie Tober had a small guest role with Sharon Russo, Junior Miss America.
Other notable guest stars from the series included James Brown (eight times), James Caan, Robert Duvall, George Kennedy, Walter Matthau, David Janssen, Buster Keaton, Lee Marvin, Tina Louise, Suzanne Pleshette, Robert Redford, Martin Sheen, Rod Steiger, and Joan Tompkins. Julie Newmar is especially memorable as a motorcycle-riding free-spirit—a role she reprised in a later episode. William Shatner and DeForest Kelley also guest starred, in separate episodes. Lee Marvin and DeForest Kelley were among the many actors and actresses to appear in more than one role over the course of the series.
In a 1986 interview, Martin Milner reported that Lee Marvin credited him with helping his career by breaking Marvin's nose "just enough" to improve his look. This happened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during a scripted fistfight for "Mon Petit Chou," the second of two episodes in which Marvin appeared.
Two late third-season episodes, which aired one week apart, each featured a guest star in a bit part playing a character with a profession with which they would later become associated as stars of their own respective mega-hit television series. In "Shadows of an Afternoon," Michael Conrad can be seen as a uniformed policeman, many years before he became famous in his regular role as Police Sgt. Phil Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues. And in "Soda Pop and Paper Flags," Alan Alda guested as a surgeon, a precursor to his career-defining role as Dr. Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce on M*A*S*H. Also in the first season episode The Strengthening Angels that aired November 4, 1960 Hal Smith, who played town drunk Otis Campbell in The Andy Griffith Show, also plays a drunk named Howard and is listed in the credits as "Drunk".
A 4th season episode, "Is It True There Are Poxies at the Bottom of Landfair Lake?", featured guest stars Geoffrey Horne and Collin Wilcox. In the episode's storyline, Wilcox's character pretended to get married to Horne's, although it turned out to be a practical joke. A few years after appearing in this episode, Horne and Wilcox would in real life be briefly married to each other.
A noteworthy in-joke occurs during the 4th season episode "Where Are the Sounds of Celli Brahams?" In this segment, Horace McMahon guests as a Minneapolis, Minnesota, festival promoter. At one point, his character confesses to Linc his failed ambition to be a policeman. Linc remarks that he looks like a policeman Linc once knew in New York City. McMahon had starred as Lt. Mike Parker on the New York-based police drama Naked City from 1958-63, another television series overseen by the creative team of Stirling Silliphant and Herbert B. Leonard.

The original working title of the series was The Searchers, according to George Maharis. That title was also the title of the 1956 film The Searchers directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne, so the series was renamed.

  • The show actually had very little real connection with the US Highway providing its name. Most of the locations visited throughout the series were far afield from the territory covered by "The Mother Road." U.S. Route 66 the highway was briefly referred to in just three early episodes of the series ("Black November," "Play It Glissando," and "An Absence of Tears") and is shown only rarely, as in the early first season episode "The Strengthening Angels".
  • The episode "I'm Here to Kill a King," which was originally scheduled to air on November 29, 1963, was removed from the schedule because of President John F. Kennedy's assassination one week earlier. It was not aired until the series went into syndication. This episode, and "A Long Way from St. Louie," are the only ones filmed outside the United States. Both were filmed in Canada, the latter in Toronto.
  • Sam Peckinpah wrote and directed an episode of season 2, "Mon Petit Chou," in 1961.
Route 66 was devised by Stirling Silliphant, who wrote the majority of the episodes. It was notable for its dark storylines and exceptional realism. Tod and Buz would frequently become involved with individuals whose almost nihilistic worldview made for occasionally frightening television. Some 50 years after its premiere, Route 66 is still one of the few television series to offer such a range of socially-conscious stories, including mercy killing, the threat of nuclear annihilation, terrorism, runaways and orphans. Other episodes dealt with the mentally ill, drug addiction or gang violence. However, some stories were congenially lighthearted, such as a memorable episode featuring Richard Basehart as a folklorist trying to record the local music of an isolated Appalachian community, and a Halloween episode called "Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing".
Even more unusual is the way it served up a kind of soaring dialog that has been referred to as "Shakespearean" and free-verse poetry. For instance, the boys encounter a Nazi hunter named Bartlett on the offshore oil drilling rig where they work. Bartlett describes the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust thus: "Tod, I hope you live a long life and never know the blistering forces that sear and destroy, turn men into enemies and sweep past the last frontiers of compassion" and "once you've seen that dark, unceasing tide of faces... of the victims...the last spark of dignity so obliterated that not one face is lifted to heaven, not one voice is raised in protest even as they died..." (from episode #4, "The Man on the Monkey Board").
The quirky, textured writing extended even to episode titles, which included such oddities as "How Much a Pound is Albatross?" and "Ever Ride the Waves in Oklahoma?". Other episode titles were drawn from a wide range of literary sources, such as Shakespeare ("A Lance of Straw", "Hell is Empty, All the Devils are Here") or Alfred Tennyson ("A Fury Slinging Flame").
Many of the stories were character studies, like the above-mentioned one featuring Richard Basehart as a man who uses people then tosses them away, as if they are plastic spoons. The episode titled "You Can't Pick Cotton in Tahiti" refers to small-town America as both a far-away, exotic Tahiti and the "real America" compared to "phony-baloney" Hollywood, and still offers food for thought. Many episodes offer moving soliloquies, into which future Academy-Award-winning writer Stirling Silliphant (In the Heat of the Night) poured his deepest thoughts.
Despite all the adventure, travelogue, drama and poetry, the real subject of the series was the human condition, with Tod and Buz often cast as a kind of roving Greek chorus, observers and mentors to broken-down prizefighters and rodeo clowns, sadists and iron-willed matrons, surfers and heiresses, runaway kids and people from all walks of life, forced by circumstances to confront their demons.
One hallmark of the show was the way it introduced viewers, however briefly, to new ways of life and new cultures. For instance, we get a glimpse of a shrimper's life in episode 2 of season 1, "A Lance of Straw," and a look at Cleveland, Ohio's Polish community in episode 35, "First Class Mouliak". Here the young are pushed by their parents into careers and even marriages they may not want, in an effort to hold community and family together, albeit at the expense of the happiness and well-being of the kids. This story featured Robert Redford, Martin Balsam, Nehemiah Persoff and Nancy Malone as guest stars.
One of the legacies Route 66 left behind is a dramatic and photographic portrait of early-1960s America as a less crowded and less complicated era—if not a less violent one—in which altruism and optimism still had a place. That place was filled by two young men who seemed to represent the best in us, the willingness to stand up for the weak, and who espoused old-fashioned values like honesty and the physical courage necessary to fight in their own and others' defense. In their role of wanderers, they appeared to be peaceful rebels who seemed to reject, at least for a time, material possessions and the American dream of owning a home. The boys were de facto orphans adrift in American society; as such, they embodied facets of Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation, a little bit of Marlon Brando's wild side from The Wild One, James Dean's inability to settle down and fit in from Rebel Without a Cause, and the wanderlust of the above-mentioned Jim Bronson, the traveling writer and loner who toured the USA on a motorcycle in the 1969-1970 series Then Came Bronson. The use of the Corvette on Route 66, not only as the boys' transportation but as their marquee and symbol of their wandering spirit, created a link between America's Sports Car and America's highways that endures to this day.
Given the unusual tenor of the show and the cost of keeping some 50 people on the road filming for most of the year, it seems highly unlikely that anything like Route 66 will ever be attempted again.
Nelson Riddle was commissioned to write the instrumental theme when CBS decided to have a new song, rather than pay royalties for the Bobby Troup song "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66". Riddle's theme, however, offers an unmistakable homage to the latter's piano solo (as originally recorded by Nat King Cole) throughout the number. Riddle's Route 66 instrumental was one of the first television themes[1] to make Billboard Magazine's Top 30, following Henry Mancini's "Mr. Lucky Theme" in 1960. The song earned two Grammy nominations in 1962.
George Maharis reported in a 1986 Nick at Nite interview that people often ask him about "the red Corvette." According to Maharis, the Corvette was never red. (The misconception may partially stem from the box illustration on the official board game, released by Transogram in 1962, which showed Tod and Buz in a red-colored model.) It was light blue the first season, and fawn beige for the second and third seasons. Both colors were chosen to photograph well in black and white, but the show's cinematographer complained that the powder blue car reflected too much light. The Corvette was replaced with a newer model annually by series' sponsor General Motors but the show itself never mentioned or explained the technicality.

October 10, 1950
The Federal Communications Commission issues the first license to broadcast color television, to CBS.
However, RCA charged that CBS's color technology was inadequate and contested the license, which was to go into effect November 3. 

RCA's challenge worked: A restraining order was issued on November 15. Despite this setback, CBS did broadcast the first commercial color TV program in June 1951. Color TV technology continued to evolve during the 1950s. In 1956, a Chicago TV station became the first to broadcast entirely in color. Color television sets, however, remained less popular than black and white sets until the late 1960s. In 1968, color televisions outsold black and white televisions for the first time.

October 10, 2010
Discovery Kids was relaunched and rebranded as The Hub. 

It was a joint operation by Discovery Communications and Hasbro, Inc. 

October 11, 1975
Saturday Night Live debuts. 

The topical comedy sketch show featuring Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman, makes its debut on NBC; it will go on to become the longest-running, highest-rated show on late-night television. The 90-minute program, which from its inception has been broadcast live from Studio 8H in the GE Building at Rockefeller Center, includes a different guest host and musical act each week. The opening sketch of each show ends with one actor saying, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”
Created by the Canadian-born comedy writer Lorne Michaels, SNL has introduced a long list of memorable characters and catchphrases--from Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannada, to the Coneheads, to Billy Crystal’s Fernando (“You look mahvelous”), to Dana Carvey’s Church Lady (“Isn’t that special?”), to bodybuilders Hans and Franz (“We’re going to pump you up”), to Coffee Talk host Linda Richman (“like buttah” and “I’m all verklempt”)--that have become part of pop-culture history. The show, whose cast has changed continually over the years, has also launched the careers of such performers as Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, David Spade, Jon Lovitz, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tina Fey. Some SNL sketches have even been turned into feature films, the two most successful examples being 1980’s The Blues Brothers and 1992’s Wayne’s World.
 The show was originally known as NBC’s Saturday Night because there was another show on ABC called Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell. However, NBC eventually purchased the naming rights, and since 1977 the edgy comedy program has been called Saturday Night Live. Lorne Michaels served as the show’s producer from 1975 to 1980, followed by Jean Doumanian from 1980 to 1981. Dick Ebersol helmed the show from 1981 to 1985. Michaels returned to the program that year, and has remained executive producer ever since.
The influential comedian George Carlin hosted the debut episode of SNL. Later that year, Candace Bergen became the first woman to assume SNL hosting duties. She went on to host the program four more times. In 1982, seven-year-old Drew Barrymore hosted the show, becoming the youngest person ever to do so. Starting in 1976, Steve Martin has hosted SNL 14 times. Since 1990, Alec Baldwin has hosted the show 13 times. John Goodman has hosted the show a dozen times, beginning in 1989. Other frequent guest hosts include Buck Henry, Chevy Chase, Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken. Musical guests who’ve performed on SNL five or more times include Paul Simon, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, James Taylor, Sting, Beck and the Foo Fighters.
SNL is known for its topical parodies and impersonations, and for pushing boundaries with its sketches. The show is also recognized for its political humor. Chevy Chase famously portrayed President Gerald Ford as a klutz, while Dana Carvey spoofed President George H.W. Bush and his “read my lips” line. More recently, Amy Poehler has played Senator Hillary Clinton in numerous skits (including one with the senator herself) and Tina Fey has portrayed the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin. 

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



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Tony Figueroa
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