I represent the first generation who, when we were born, the television was now a permanent fixture in our homes. When I was born people had breakfast with Barbara Walters, dinner with Walter Cronkite, and slept with Johnny Carson.
Read the full "Pre-ramble"
Monday, January 11, 2016
This Week in Television History: January 2016 PART II
In the early 1960s, Ed Graham Productions optioned the TV rights to the comic stripBatman, and planned a
straightforward juvenile adventure show, much like Adventures
of Superman and The Lone Ranger, for CBS
on Saturday mornings.Mike Henry was set to star as Batman. Reportedly, D.C.
Comics commissioned publicity photos of Henry in a Batman costume. Around this
same time, the Playboy Club
in Chicago was screening the Batman serials (1943's Batman and 1949's Batman and Robin on Saturday
nights. It became very popular, as the hip party goers would cheer and applaud
the Dynamic Duo, and boo and hiss at the villains. East coast ABC executive
Yale Udoff, a Batman fan in childhood, attended one of these parties at the
Playboy Club and was impressed with the reaction the serials were getting. He
contacted ABC executives Harve Bennett
and Edgar J. Scherick,
who were already considering developing a TV series based on a comic strip action hero, to suggest a prime time
Batman series in the hip and fun style of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
When negotiations between CBS and Graham stalled, DC quickly re-obtained rights
and made the deal with ABC, who farmed the rights out to 20th Century Fox to produce the series.
In turn, 20th Century Fox handed the project to William Dozier and his Greenway Productions.
ABC and Fox were expecting a hip and fun—yet still serious—adventure show.
However, Dozier, who loathed comic books, concluded the only way to make the
show work was to do it as a pop artcamp comedy. Originally, espionage novelist Eric Ambler was to write the motion picture that
would launch the TV series, but he dropped out after learning of Dozier's camp
comedy approach. By the time, ABC had pushed up the debut date to January 1966,
thus foregoing the movie
until the summer hiatus, Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
had signed on as head script writer. He wrote the pilot script, and generally kept his scripts more
on the side of pop art adventure. Stanley Ralph Ross,
Stanford Sherman, and Charles Hoffman
were script writers who generally leaned more toward camp comedy, and in Ross'
case, sometimes outright slapstick and satire. Instead of producing a one-hour
show, Dozier and Semple decided to have the show air twice a week in half-hour
installments with a cliffhanger connecting the two episodes, echoing the old
movie serials. Eventually, two sets of screen tests were filmed, one with Adam West and Burt Ward, the other with Lyle Waggoner and Peter
Deyell, with West and Ward winning the roles.
The typical story began with a villain (often one of a short list of
recurring villains) committing a crime, such as stealing a fabulous gem or
taking over Gotham City.
This was followed by a scene inside Commissioner Gordon's office where he and
Chief O'Hara would deduce exactly which villain they were dealing with.
Commissioner Gordon would press a button on the Batphone, a bright red
telephone located on a pedestal in his office. The scene then cut to stately
Wayne Manor where Alfred the butler would answer the Batphone, which sat like a
normal everyday telephone on the desk in Bruce Wayne's study. Frequently, Wayne
and his ward, Dick Grayson, would be found talking with Dick's Aunt Harriet,
who was completely unaware of Bruce and Dick's identities as Batman &
Robin, respectively. Alfred would discreetly interrupt so they could excuse
themselves and go to the Batphone. Upon learning which criminal he would face
this time, Bruce would push a button concealed within a bust of Shakespeare that stood on his desk causing a
bookcase to slide back and revealing two poles. "To the Batpoles!"
Wayne would exclaim, at which he and Grayson would slide down to the Batcave,
activating an unseen mechanism on the way that dressed them as their alter
egos. The title sequence
often began at this point.
Similar in style and content to the 1940s serials, they would arrive in the Batcave in full costume and jump into the Batmobile, Batman in the driver's seat. Robin
would say, "Atomicbatteries
to power...turbines to speed." Batman would
respond, "Roger, ready to move out." And the two would race
off out of the cave at high speed. As the Batmobile approached the mouth of the
cave, actually a tunnel entrance in Los Angeles's Bronson Canyon, a hinged barrier dropped down to
allow the car to exit onto the road. Scenes from the Dynamic Duo sliding down
the batpoles in the Batcave, to the arrival at Commissioner Gordon's building
via the Batmobile (while the episode credits are shown), are reused footage that is used in nearly all part 1
and single episodes.
After arriving at Commissioner Gordon's office, the initial discussion of
the crime usually led to the Dynamic Duo conducting their investigation alone.
During the investigation, a meeting with the villain would usually ensue, with
the heroes getting involved in a fight and the villain getting away, leaving a
series of unlikely clues for the Duo to investigate. Later, the Duo would face
the villain again, and he or she would capture one or both of the heroes and
place them in a deathtrap
with a cliffhanger ending which was usually resolved in
the first few minutes of the next episode.
The same pattern was repeated in the following episode until the villain was
defeated in a major brawl where the action was punctuated by superimposed onomatopoeic words, as in comic book fight scenes
("POW!", "BAM!", "ZONK!", etc.). Not counting
five of the Penguin's henchmen who disintegrate or get blown up in the
associated Batman theatrical movie, only three criminal characters die
during the series: the Riddler's moll Molly (played by Jill St. John in Episode 2) who accidentally falls
into the Batcave's atomic pile, and two out-of-town gunmen who shoot at the
Dynamic Duo toward the end of the "Zelda The Great/A Death Worse Than
Fate" episode, but end up killing each other instead. In "Instant
Freeze," Mr. Freeze freezes a butler solid and knocks him over, causing
him to smash to pieces, although this is implied rather than seen, and there is
a later reference suggesting the butler survived. In "Green Ice," Mr.
Freeze freezes a policeman solid; it is left unclear whether he survived or
not. In "The Penguin's Nest," a policeman suffers an electric shock
at the hands of the Penguin's accomplices, but he apparently survived as he
appeared in some later episodes. In "The Bookworm Turns,"
Commissioner Gordon appears to be shot and falls off a bridge to his death, but
Batman deduces that this was actually an expert high diver in disguise,
employed by The Bookworm as a ruse (implying that the diver survived the fall).
Robin, in particular, was especially well known for saying "Holy
(insert), Batman!" whenever he encountered something startling.
The series utilized a narrator (producer William Dozier, uncredited) who parodied both the
breathless narration style of the 1940s serials and Walter Winchell's narration of The
Untouchables. He would end many of the cliffhanger
episodes by intoning, "Tune in
tomorrow — same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!"
Only two of the series' guest villains ever discovered Batman's true identity:
deductive reasoning, and King Tut on
two occasions (once with a bug on the Batmobile and once by accidentally mining
into The Batcave). Egghead was tricked into disbelieving
his discovery, as was Tut in the episode when he bugged the Batmobile. In the
episode when Tut tunnelled into the Batcave, he was hit on the head by a rock
which made him forget his discovery and jarred him back into his identity as a
mild-mannered Professor of Egyptology at Yale University. (He didn't even recognize
Batgirl, asking her, "Why are you wearing that purple mask, lady?")
In Season 1, the dynamic duo, Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward), are super crime-fighting heroes,
contending with the villains of Gotham City. It begins with the two-parter,
"Hi Diddle Riddle" and "Smack in the Middle", featuring
Frank Gorshin as The Riddler.
In Season 2, the show suffered from repetition of its characters and
formula. In addition, critics noted that the series' delicate balance of drama
and humor that the first season maintained was lost as the stories became increasingly
farcical. This, combined with Lorenzo Semple Jr. contributing fewer scripts and
having less of an influence on the series, caused viewers to tire of the show
and for critics to complain, "If you've seen one episode of Batman,
you've seen them all."
By Season 3, ratings were
falling and the future of the series seemed uncertain. A promotional short
featuring Yvonne Craig
as Batgirl and Tim Herbert as Killer Moth was produced. The short was convincing
enough to pick up Batman for another season, and introduced Batgirl as a
regular on the show in an attempt to attract more female viewers. Batgirl's
alter ego was Barbara Gordon, a mild-mannered librarian at the Gotham Library
and Commissioner Gordon's daughter. The show was reduced to once a week,
with mostly self-contained episodes, although the following week's villain
would be in a tag at the end of the episode, similar to a soap opera.
Accordingly, the narrator's cliffhanger phrases were eliminated, but most
episodes would end with him saying something to the effect of "Watch
the next episode!"
Aunt Harriet was reduced to just two cameo appearances during the third
season because of Madge Blake's
poor health. (Aunt Harriet was also mentioned in another episode, but was not
seen; her absence was explained by her being in shock upstairs.) The nature of
the scripts and acting started to enter into the realm of the surrealistic. For example, the set's backgrounds
became mere two-dimensional cut-outs against a stark black stage. In addition,
the third season was much more topical, with references to hippies, mods, and
distinctive 1960's slang, which the previous seasons avoided.
Near the end of the third season, ABC planned to cut the budget even further
by eliminating Robin and Chief O'Hara, and making Batgirl Batman's full-time partner. Both Dozier
and West vetoed this idea, and ABC cancelled the show. Weeks later, NBC
offered to pick the show up for a fourth season and even restore it to its
original twice-a-week format, if the sets were still available for use.
However, NBC's offer came too late: Fox had already demolished the sets a week
before. NBC had no interest in paying the $800,000 for the rebuild, so the
offer was withdrawn.
January 12, 1971
situation comedy All in the Family debuts.
The show, which was one of TV's top hits for much of
its run, starred Carroll O'Connor as bigoted Archie Bunker; Jean Stapleton as
his wife, Edith; and Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner as the couple's liberal
daughter and son-in-law. The show changed the course of television by
portraying the harsh realities of bigotry and racism and dealing with
controversial subjects like birth control, rape, and politics. The show changed
its name to Archie Bunker's Place in 1979, when the action shifted from
the Bunkers' living room to the bar Archie owned.
January 12, 1981
Dynasty premieres on ABC. The oil tycoon Blake Carrington (John Forsythe)
prepares to marry his former secretary, the beautiful and innocent Krystle
(Linda Evans), in the three-hour television movie that kicks off the prime-time
ABC soap opera Dynasty.
Over the next eight years, the Carringtons, a rich Denver oil clan, and
another wealthy family, the Colbys, would form the center of the campy,
glamorous universe that was Dynasty. Envisioned as bitter rivals, in the
style of the Montagues and Capulets of Romeo and Juliet, the two
families intermarried and plotted against each other with equal enthusiasm. At
the beginning of the second season, as buzz around the show began to grow, the
British actress Joan Collins entered the mix as Blake Carrington’s evil
ex-wife, Alexis; her clash with the good girl Krystle became one of the central
plotlines of the show. In one of the series’ more memorable moments, Alexis and
Krystle had a catfight in a lily pond.
Dynasty’s elaborately melodramatic plot lines resembled those of the
daytime soap operas (kidnappings, amnesia, characters returning from the dead,
etc.) and its style fit perfectly with the over-the-top excesses of the 1980s.
It was no wonder, as the show was produced partially by Aaron Spelling, the man
behind such hit shows as The Mod Squad, Charlie’s Angels, The
Love Boat, Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place. By the end
of the 1982-83 season, Dynasty was fifth in the top-rated programs; it
climbed to third place in 1983-84 and grabbed the number one spot in 1984-85.
Its success spawned a short-lived spin-off, Dynasty II: The Colbys, and
an entire line of licensed products such as clothing, bedding and perfume.
The over-the-top cliffhanger ending to the fourth season in May 1985 marked
the beginning of the end, as the entire Carrington family gathered for a
wedding in the fictional country of Moldavia. The festivities were disrupted by
a terrorist attack, and while all of the main characters emerged unscathed, the
show’s ratings began to drop precipitously. During its final season, 1988-89, Dynasty
fell to a dismal 57th place and was unceremoniously dropped from the ABC
lineup. Various plot lines were left unresolved, but disappointed fans got
their long-awaited closure two years later, when ABC aired a two-part movie Dynasty:
The Reunion in October 1991.
January 13, 1966
Elizabeth Montgomery’s character,
Samantha, on Bewitched, had a baby.
The series proved highly
popular worldwide, gaining high ratings in the US and particularly so in the UK
(where it became the only Science fiction programme to achieve the No.1
position in the ratings during the 20th Century). The series ran for three
seasons from 1976 to 1978 and was first shown on the ABC network and then the NBC network for its
final season. Years after its cancelation, three spin-off TV movies were
produced between 1987 and 1994. Reruns of the show aired on Sci-Fi Channel from
1997 to 2001. A remake of the series was
produced in 2007.
January 15, 1981
Hill Street Blues begins run.
When the series first
appeared, the police show had largely been given up for dead. Critics savaged
stodgy and moralistic melodramas, and scoffed at lighter fare like Starsky and
Hutch. Created by Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll, Hill Street Blues
invigorated television, paving the way for more realistic and gritty fare.
Hill Street Blues was set in
an anonymous northern city (the exteriors were actually filmed in Chicago) and
was the first real attempt by television to portray police officers as fallible
human beings. Each episode began with the 7 a.m. roll call led by Sergeant
Esterhaus. He closed the roll call with his trademark refrain, "Let's be
careful out there."
The series not only changed
the way that Americans viewed police officers, it also revolutionized the
television drama itself. The show resisted formula and introduced the ensemble
cast. Whereas early cop shows like Dragnet and Adam-12 were centered around a
couple of officers who always got their man by the end of the hour, the full
squad house of regulars on Hill Street Blues rarely resolved cases in one
Hill Street Blues was
acclaimed through its entire run. When it ended in May 1987, it had set the records
for most Emmys won in a single season and most nominations in one year.
January 16, 1976
Music variety show Donny and Marie
premieres, starring 18-year-old Donny Osmond and his 16-year-old sister, Marie. The show ran for only three years, but the brother
and sister were reunited in 1998 with a daytime talk show.
January 17, 1966
NBC Television greenlights The
The inspiration came from
the Beatles, the financing came from Screen Gems, the music came from Don
Kirshner and the stars came from an exhaustive audition process that began with
this ad in Daily Variety in
Folk & Rock Musicians-Singers
For Acting Roles in New TV Series
Running Parts for 4 Insane Boys, Age 17-21
The ad drew more than 400 young men to the offices of
Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, the young Hollywood producing team that would
later make Easy Rider,but who for now were trying to milk the
establishment rather than defy it. They spent the next four months shooting,
cutting, market-testing, re-cutting and re-market-testing a comedy pilot they
hoped would land them a network television deal. They got their green light on
January 17, 1966, when the National Broadcasting Corporation ordered 32
episodes of The Monkees for its upcoming fall schedule.
The next eight months were a bit of a whirlwind for
Rafelson and Schneider, for the team of songwriters and studio musicians
assembled by Don Kirschner and, not least, for the four "insane boys"
chosen to become the Monkees. Mickey Dolenz had never played a drum prior to
being cast as "Mickey," and Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith had no acting
experience prior to becoming "Peter" and "Mike." Davy Jones
was already a triple-threat in the areas of acting, singing and being cute, but
it had never been Rafelson and Schneider's intention to find such all-around
professionals. "We wanted guys who could play themselves," Schneider
explained to the pressahead of the NBC premiere of The Monkees in
September 1966. "We didn't even look at actors, and we didn't look for
experienced rock and roll groups."
The strategy, and indeed the entire grand scheme
behind The Monkees, succeeded beyond all expectations. Not only did the
television show find success against formidable competition in its time slot
from Gilligan's Island, but the group that was a
made-for-television knockoff of the Beatles soon had actual records that were
outselling the Beatles themselves. Vincent Canby of the New York Times foresaw
the commercial success of Rafelson and Schneider's creation the moment he
witnessed the reaction of a crowd of preteen girls during a promotional
appearance by the Monkees just three days before their network debut. "The
Monkees' appearance yesterday afternoon at the Broadway," Canby wrote,
"was just part of an elaborate campaign...to capture the teen-age
imagination. The thoroughness of the campaign, as shown yesterday, might prompt
renewed debate on the age-old question of free will. Do the teen-agers have a
chance these days?"
To quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was".