Monday, May 02, 2016
This Week in Television History: May 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.
May 2, 1996
Phil Donahue taped the final edition of his talk show Donahue. On July 15, 2002, he returned to television with a talk show under the same name.
May 3, 1991
Prime-time soap opera Dallas airs its last episode.
The episode was watched by 33.3 million viewers (38% of all viewers in that time slot)
The show debuted in April of 1978, and broke ratings records in 1980 when 83.6 million viewers tuned in to find out "Who Shot J.R.?". In the final episode, titled Conundrum (An homage to It's a Wonderful Life) J.R. is contemplating committing suicide. The drunk J.R. walks around the pool with a bourbon bottle and a loaded gun, when suddenly another person appears, a spirit named Adam (portrayed by Joel Grey), whose "boss" has been watching J.R. and likes him. Adam proceeds to take him on a journey to show him what life would have been like for other people if he had not been born. At the end of the episode Adam encourages J.R. on to kill himself. J.R. will not do it, as he does not want Adam to be sent back to heaven with his job incomplete. At this point Adam reveals that he's not an angel, but a minion of Satan. Bobby has returned home. The gun goes off while Bobby is in the hallway, and he rushes to J.R.'s room. He looks at what has gone down, gasps, "Oh, my God," and the series ends on that note with the fate of J.R. never settled (although it eventually would be five years later, in the reunion movie, Dallas: J.R. Returns.).
In 2010, cable network TNT announced they had ordered a pilot for the continuation of the Dallas series. After viewing the completed pilot episode, TNT proceeded to order a full season of 10 episodes.
The new series premiered on June 13, 2012, centering primarily around John Ross and Christopher Ewing, the now-grown sons of J.R. and Bobby. Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray returned in full-time capacity, reprising their original roles. The series is produced by Warner Horizon Television, a subsidiary of Warner Bros., which holds the rights to the Dallas franchise through its acquisition of Lorimar Television and is a sister company to TNT, both under the ownership of TimeWarner.
The new series is a continuation of the old series, with the story continuing after a 20-year break. It does not take the events of the TV movies Dallas: J.R. Returns or Dallas: War of the Ewings as canon. Instead we find the characters as they are today, 20 years after the events of the Season 14 cliffhanger. In an interview with UltimateDallas.com, Cynthia Cidre was asked to describe the new Dallas. She responded, "I tried to be really, really respectful of the original Dallas because it was really clear to me that the people who love Dallas are [like] Trekkies, really committed to that show and I really did not understand that before, so I never wanted to violate anything that had happened in the past. On the other hand that was the past, twenty years had gone by, so at the same time I think we're properly balanced between the characters of Bobby Ewing, J.R. and Sue Ellen. I also have the new cast and it's John Ross and Christopher, the children of Bobby and J.R., and their love interests. Total respect and a balance of old and new."
May 8, 1976
The theme song from Welcome Back, Kotter is the #1 song in America.
In 1975, John Sebastian, former member of the beloved 60s pop group the Lovin' Spoonful, was asked to write and record the theme song for a brand-new ABC television show with the working title Kotter. As any songwriter would, Sebastian first tried working that title into his song, but somehow the rhymes he came up with for "Kotter"—otter, water, daughter, slaughter—didn't really lend themselves to a show about a middle-aged schoolteacher returning to his scrappy Brooklyn neighborhood to teach remedial students at his own former high school. So Sebastian took a more thoughtful approach to the task at hand and came up with a song about finding your true calling in a life you thought you'd left behind. That song, "Welcome Back," not only went on to become a #1 pop single on this day in 1976, but it also led the show's producers to change its title to Welcome Back, Kotter.
What Sebastian's sweet, wistful and playfully nostalgic tune did not do, however, was influence the tone and content of the show. To listen to "Welcome Back," you'd think that Welcome Back, Kotter was a seriocomic slice-of-life program in the mold of, say, The Courtship of Eddie's Father—another 70s TV show with a theme song by a great 60s songwriter (Harry Nilsson). Instead, Welcome Back, Kotter was little more than a flimsy platform for catchphrase-spouting caricatures, albeit an insanely successful one. Arnold Horshack's "Oooh, oooh, oooh," Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington's "Hi therrre," Vinnie Barbarino's "What? What?" and Gabe Kotter's "Up your nose with a rubber hose" were the pop-cultural coin-of-the-realm in 1975-76, and though they bore little relation in tone or spirit to the song that topped the charts on this day in 1976, the disconnect did nothing to hinder the popularity of all things Kotter-related. Indeed, if you weren't wearing an Uncle Sam or King Kong T-shirt in the summer of America's bicentennial year, you were probably wearing one with a picture of "the Sweathogs" and a colorful phrase like "Off my case, toilet face" on it.
"Welcome Back" was the first and only television theme song that John Sebastian ever wrote, but it was far from the only television theme song of the mid-1970s to become a legitimate pop hit. Only weeks earlier in 1976, the instrumental "Theme From S.W.A.T." had topped the Billboard Hot 100, and the excellent Mike Post-written theme The Rockford Files had made the top 10 the previous summer.