Monday, April 18, 2016

This Week in Television History: April 2016 PART III

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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 reallylies.


April 18, 1971
The Jackson 5 and Bill Cosby were guests on Diana Ross' solo TV special Diana! 
Diana! is American singer Diana Ross' first solo TV special, which aired on ABC on April 18, 1971, choreographed by David Winters of West Side Story fame, who at that time choreographed all of Ross' stage and TV shows. The special featured performances by The Jackson 5, and also included Jackson 5 lead singerMichael Jackson's solo debut. Michael Jackson performed Frank Sinatra's "It Was a Very Good Year", which drew laughter as its adult-themed lyrics were changed to fit his age. Other guests included Danny Thomas andBill Cosby, who would be featured on a similar TV special by the Jackson 5 (Goin' Back to Indiana) a few months later.
Since this was right at the beginning of her solo career, she took the opportunity to promote the two hits from her debut, the gold audience participant "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)" and the number 1 song "Ain't No Mountain High Enough". She also performed a cover of The Carpenters "(They Long to Be) Close to You" and the top-20 gold single "Remember Me" released that previous December 1970 included on her forthcoming album "Surrender" to be released later that summer. (Though she performed "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)" on the special, it was not included on the soundtrack).
The television special, and its subsequent soundtrack, was a Neilsen's ratings winner, hitting the top 20 (number 17) of shows that week and garnering Emmy nominations for Ross and Bob Mackie and in technical categories.

April 20, 1981
The final episode of Soap aired on ABC. 
Although Susan Harris had planned for five seasons of Soap, the program was abruptly canceled by ABC after its fourth season. Therefore the final one-hour episode, which originally aired on April 20, 1981, did not serve as a series finale and instead ended with several unresolved cliffhangers. These involve a suicidal Chester preparing to kill Danny and Annie (his son and wife) after catching them in bed together, an irreversibly hypnotized Jodie believing himself to be a 90-year-old Jewish man, Burt preparing to walk into an ambush orchestrated by his political enemies, and Jessica about to be executed by a Communist firing squadVlasic Foods pulled their sponsorship of the program shortly after this episode aired and ABC announced that the program was not picked up for its planned fifth season. The official reason given by the network was its declining ratings. However, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, Soap "ended under suspicion that resistance from ad agencies may have caused ABC to cancel [it] at that point" because its still controversial content was negatively affecting its relationship with sponsors. A 1983 episode of Benson mentions Jessica's disappearance, noting the Tate family is seeking to have her declared legally dead. In the episode, Jessica appears as an apparition that only Benson can see or hear and reveals to him that she is not dead, but in a coma somewhere in South America. No other incidents from the final episode of Soap are mentioned.

April 22, 1926
Charlotte Rae is born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky. 

The of stage, comedienne, singer and dancer, who in her six decades of television is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Edna Garrett in the sitcoms Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life (in which she starred from 1979 to 1986). She received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy in 1982. She also appeared in two Facts of Life television movies: The Facts of Life Goes to Paris in 1982 and The Facts of Life Reunion in 2001. She voiced the character of "Nanny" in 101 Dalmatians: The Series.
Her first significant success was on the sitcom Car 54, Where Are You? (1961–1963), in which she played Sylvia Schnauzer, the wife of Officer Leo Schnauzer (played by Al Lewis). She was nominated for an Emmy Award for her supporting role in the 1975 drama Queen of the Stardust Ballroom. In January 1975, Rae became a cast member on the ABC television comedy Hot L Baltimore, wherein she played Mrs. Bellotti, whose dysfunctional adult son Moose, who was never actually seen, lived at the "hot l" (the hotel was so bad the "E" on the sign never worked). Mrs. Bellotti, who was a bit odd herself, would visit Moose and then laugh about all the odd situations that Moose would get into with the others living at the hotel. Rae also appeared in early seasons of Sesame Street as Molly the Mail Lady.
Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life
In 1978, NBC was losing to both CBS and ABC in sitcom ratings, and Fred Silverman, future producer and former head of CBS, ABC, and NBC, insisted that Norman Lear produce Diff'rent Strokes. Knowing that Rae was one of Lear's favorite actresses, he hired her immediately for the role of housekeeper Edna Garrett, and she co-starred with Conrad Bain in all 24 episodes of the first season. Her character proved to be so popular that producers decided to do an episode that could lead to a spinoff. That episode (called "The Girls School") was about girls attending a fictional school called Eastland. In July 1979, Rae proposed the idea for the spinoff. NBC approved the show, to be called The Facts of Life, which would portray a housemother in a prestigious private school and dealt with such issues facing teenagers as weight issues, depression, drugs, alcohol, and dating.
After working as a character actress/comedienne in supporting roles or in guest shots on television series and specials, The Facts Of Life gave Rae not only her best-known role but it finally made her a television star. The role of Edna Garrett was the unifying center of attention of the program as well as a warm, motherly figure for the girls. Rae's role was very similar to that of Kate Bradley on the 1960's CBS-TV series Petticoat Junction, which also gave radio and television actress Bea Benaderet late stardom.
The Facts of Life had marginal ratings at first but after a major restructuring and time change, the show became a ratings winner between 1980 and 1986. Midway throughout both the 1984-85 and 1985-86 seasons, she missed several episodes because she was planning on leaving the show, and the story lines focused more on the other characters. At the beginning of the eighth season, Rae left the show and Cloris Leachman was then brought in as Mrs. Garrett's sister, Beverly Ann Stickle, for the show's last two years, until the show was canceled in 1988.
In 2001, Rae, Lisa Whelchel, Mindy Cohn, and Kim Fields were reunited in a TV movie, The Facts of Life Reunion. In 2007, the entire cast was invited to attend the TV Land Awards where several members of the cast, including Rae, sang the show's theme song. On April 19, 2011, the entire cast was reunited again to attend the TV Land Awards, where the show was nominated and won the award for Pop Culture Icon. The same day, Nancy McKeon and Kim Fields (who played Jo & Tootie, respectively) also gave a speech in honor of her 85th birthday. The cast did likewise on ABC's Good Morning America, where at the end of the segment, reporter, Cynthia McFadden wished Rae a happy birthday, and the cast sang the show's theme song.

April 22, 1976
Barbara Walters signs $5 million contract. 
Barbara Walters signs a record-breaking five-year, $5 million contract with ABC. The contract made her the first news anchorwoman in network history and the highest paid TV journalist to date.
April 24, 1936
A group of firemen responding to an alarm in Camden, New Jersey, is televised. 
It was the first time an unplanned event was broadcast on television, anticipating the development of live TV news coverage. Fortunately, the event would not inspire anyone to create reality programming.

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

 


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Tony Figueroa
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