Monday, February 01, 2016

This Week in Television History: February 2016 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.

February 1, 1951

TV Shows Atomic Blast, Live.

For the first time, television viewers witness the live detonation of an atomic bomb blast, as KTLA in Los Angeles broadcasts the blinding light produced by a nuclear device dropped on Frenchman Flats, Nevada. One of a hundred above-ground nuclear tests conducted between 1951 and 1962 in the Nevada desert, the A-bomb telecast found its way into the history books (and blogs) when cameramen secretly positioned on top of a Las Vegas hotel focused on the blast. The images were relayed to the station’s transmitter on Mount Wilson Observatory about 200 miles away, and early-bird viewers saw their television screens fill with white light at 5:30 in the morning.

Witnessing the blast telecast first-hand was KTLA reporter Stan Chambers. In a YouTube interview, Chambers described how station manager Klaus Landsberg pulled off the unauthorized broadcast. “We couldn’t get near the field, because it was all top secret. Klaus sent a crew to Las Vegas and put them on top of one of the hotels…. They kept the camera open for the flash of light that would come on when the blast went off.”
Los Angeles viewers tuned in for the one-off event. “We had a rating that was very large for 5:30 in the morning,” Chambers recalled. In the pre-videotape era, there were of course no replays as newsmen Gil Martin, anchoring from Las Vegas, and station staffer Robin Lane at Mount Wilson reported the incident. Chambers continued:
We stayed on the air, they waited for the right time, and all of a sudden there was the flash. The people watched it, Gil described it, Lane talked about it, and that was our telecast. That one flash. You just see this blinding white light. It didn’t seem real. We didn’t have videotape. You couldn’t say, “Let’s look at it again.”
1951’s Ranger Easy bomb was designed to test compression against critical mass in the Demon core, so-called because the plutonium mass became unstable and caused the radiation-poisoning death of a Los Alamos scientist. A B-50 bomber plane dropped the test weapon above the Nevada Test Site about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Part of the Department of Energy’s Operation Ranger program, “Easy” delivered a 1-kiloton payload.
In the decade that followed Operation Ranger, A-bomb tests from Buster-Jangle, Tumbler-Snapper, Upshot-Knothole, Plumbbob, Nougat, Sunbeam and other programs became so commonplace that watching mushroom clouds turned into a Las Vegas tourist attraction.
In 1952, KTLA set up the first live, national feed for a Nevada atomic bomb explosion. That one was carried by the major networks.

February 1, 1976
"The Secret of Bigfoot" is one of the best-known storylines in the history of The Six Million Dollar Man airs. It is in this two-part episode that Steve Austin first encounters the legendary Bigfoot and the alien visitors he protects.

Steve Austin and Oscar Goldman are in a remote region of the California mountains as part of a team working with high tech earthquake sensors. When two geologists - Ivan and Marlene Bekey - disappear in mysterious circumstances tracks of the legendary wild beast called Sasquatch or Bigfoot are found nearby. Ivan is soon found safe but in a state of shock. However, there is no sign of Marlene. When Bigfoot later attacks the team's base camp Steve pursues and fights with the beast unaware that he is being monitored by aliens who are living in a nearby mountain. During the fight one of Bigfoot's arms becomes detached revealing that it is not an animal but some form of robot. Bigfoot flees (complete with the removed arm!) and Steve follows it into a cave. This turns out to be inside the mountain occupied by the aliens and Steve is soon rendered unconscious, captured and analysed by them.

When he awakes, Steve learns from Shalon - a female alien - that Bigfoot was built and controlled by the aliens to protect them. The earthquake sensor team had been attacked as they had identified a volcanic vent that powered the alien colony. Meanwhile Oscar learns that a major earthquake is predicted along the main San Medrian fault line within the next few hours which jeopardises all the Californian west coast cities. Only a controlled underground nuclear explosion to trigger a smaller man made earthquake along a smaller tributary fault line will prevent the main earthquake from happening. Oscar authorises this knowing that Steve and Marlene are still missing in the area concerned and will be at serious risk from the explosion and subsequent earthquake.

February 1, 1976
Sonny and Cher resumed on TV despite a real life divorce.
In February 1976, the bitterness of their divorce behind them, the couple reunited for one last try with The Sonny and Cher Show. This incarnation of the series was produced by veteran musical variety-show writers, Frank Peppiatt and John Aylesworth. It was basically the same as their first variety series but with different writers to create new sketches and songs. The duo's opening conversations were markedly more subdued and made humbled references to the couple's divorce and Cher's subsequent marriage to Gregg Allman (during production Cher was pregnant with and eventually bore Allman's son, Elijah). (Some jokes would get awkward. In one opening segment Cher gave Sonny a compliment and Sonny jokingly replied "That's not what you said in the courtroom.") Despite these complications, the revived series garnered enough ratings to be renewed for a second season, finally ending its run in 1977. (By this time, the variety show genre was already in steep decline, and Sonny and Cher was one of the few successful programs of the genre remaining on the air at the time.)

February 6, 1966
The final episode of "Mr. Ed" aired on CBS.
Wilbur pleads with Ed to stick to being a horse, especially when Ed wants to go to college to become a Doctor.

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


Stay Tuned


Tony Figueroa
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