Monday, March 05, 2018

This Week in Television History: March 2017 PART I

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.


March 7, 1988
Writers Guild of America strike begins. 
After rejecting what the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) said was a final offer, representatives of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) called a strike for all the union’s members to begin at 9 a.m. Pacific Time on this day in 1988.
The origins of the strike went back to late 1987, when producers began demanding that writers accept a sliding scale on residuals--payment received when work is re-broadcast after its original airing--from domestic syndicated reruns of one-hour shows, claiming that syndication prices had dropped. Writers balked at this restriction; they also wanted a bigger share of foreign rights and more creative control over the scripts they were writing. With negotiations stalled, the current contract between the AMPTP and the WGA expired at midnight on March 1, and the strike began a week later.
Some companies got around the strike by signing interim deals with the WGA, including Carsey-Werner Co., producers of The Cosby Show, who were able to continue production on a new sitcom, Roseanne, which shot to No. 2 in the ratings that season. Near the end of July, after the writers rejected a settlement, the entertainment lawyer Ken Ziffren stepped in to run interference between the two sides of the conflict. Along with the producers’ chief negotiator, Nick Counter, Ziffren got both producers and writers to modify their positions in time for a meeting in early August at the headquarters of the AMPTP in Sherman Oaks, California. Sixteen hours later, the strike was over, after the two sides struck a deal by which producers upped the payment for foreign rights and writers agreed to the sliding scale on syndication residuals.

Though it came at a relatively opportune time, as the networks were winding down TV production for the summer, the five-month walkout still had an effect. Overall network ratings dropped 4.6 percent that fall from a year earlier, and many viewers began watching cable channels, which were not affected by the strike because they showed little original programming. Overall, the walkout was estimated to have cost Hollywood some $500 million. One enduring effect of the strike was the increasing ubiquity of so-called “reality” programming. As networks scrambled to fill the holes in their schedules, they relied on such programs as Unsolved Mysteries, which began as an NBC special but was expanded to a regular series by the network during the strike. Fox’s unscripted police reality series COPS made its debut the following year, and such shows would become increasingly popular during the 1990s.

Mach 8, 1993
The first episode of the animated series Beavis and Butthead airs.
Beavis and Butthead offered audiences rude and crude buddy humor in the tradition of The Three Stooges, Cheech and Chong, and Wayne and Garth of Saturday Night Live and the Wayne’s World movies. The titular main characters were two teenage boys living in the fictional town of Highland; they attended Highland High (based on a real school in creator Mike Judge’s hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico) but spent most of their time eating junk food, talking about girls and--most importantly--watching music videos. Beavis and Butthead alternated between animated storylines and clips of actual music videos, which Beavis and Butthead commented on in their signature bone-headed style, punctuated by sarcastic comments and grunt-like laughter.
Judge first drew his two main characters for an animation festival, where an MTV producer spotted them and picked up an episode for its animated showcase Liquid Television. After signing Judge on for 65 episodes, the network began airing the show on weeknights at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. Critics were divided in their response: Some praised Judge and MTV for effectively skewering a big part of the network’s own core demographic--young men who watch music videos--while others cited Beavis and Butthead’s lowest-common-denominator humor as evidence of an overall decline in the quality of television.
Despite the mixed critical response, the show earned MTV’s highest ratings. It also sparked a heated controversy over the influence of TV programs on impressionable young children, especially after an incident in 1993, when a mother blamed Beavis and Butthead’s well-documented pyromaniac tendencies for inspiring her five-year-old son to set a fire that killed his two-year-old sister. In response to the uproar over this tragedy, MTV pulled four episodes off the air, cut all references to fire and moved Beavis and Butthead to the 10:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m. time slot, claiming they were simply targeting an older audience.
Regardless of its dubious influence on young audiences, the success of Beavis and Butthead prompted MTV to launch a spin-off program featuring the boys’ nerdy female classmate, Daria Morgendorffer. Daria first aired in March 1997, eight months before Beavis and Butthead ended its run. Judge later created the Emmy-winning animated series King of the Hill for Fox and directed films for the big screen, including a feature-film version of Beavis and Butthead, Beavis and Butthead Do America (1996) and the cult hits Office Space (1999) and Idiocracy (2006).


March 10, 1978
CBS began airing the series The Incredible Hulk.
The Incredible Hulk is an American television series based on the Marvel Comics character The Hulk. The series aired on the CBS television network and starred Bill Bixby as David Banner, Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk, and Jack Colvin as Jack McGee.
In the TV series, Dr. David Banner, a widowed physician and scientist, who is presumed dead, travels across America under assumed names (his false surnames always begin with the letter "B", but he keeps his first name), and finds himself in positions where he helps others in need despite his terrible secret: in times of extreme anger or stress, he transforms into a huge, incredibly strong green creature, who has been named "The Hulk". In his travels, Banner earns money by working temporary jobs while searching for a way to either control or cure his condition. All the while, he is obsessively pursued by a tabloid newspaper reporter, Jack McGee, who is convinced that the Hulk is a deadly menace whose exposure would enhance his career.
The series' two-hour pilot movie, which established the Hulk's origins, aired on November 4, 1977. The series' 82 episodes was originally broadcast by CBS over five seasons from 1978 to 1982. It was developed and produced by Kenneth Johnson, who also wrote or directed some episodes. The series ends with David Banner continuing to search for a cure.

In 1988, the filming rights were purchased from CBS by rival NBC. They produced three television filmsThe Incredible Hulk Returns (directed by Nicholas J. Corea), The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, and The Death of the Incredible Hulk (both directed by Bill Bixby). Since its debut, The Incredible Hulk series has garnered a worldwide fan base.

March 11, 1818
Frankenstein published

March 11, 1903
Lawrence Welk is born.
For the generation that grew up on the big bands of the 30s and 40s, The Lawrence Welk Show was a blessed island of calm in a world gone mad for rock and roll, and it aired like clockwork every Saturday night from 1955 to 1982. But for the children and grandchildren watching along with them, it seemed more like the "television show that time forgot." The man at this generational flash point was an accordion-playing, Alsatian-accented bandleader who kicked off each number with "A vun and a two" and ended with a cheery "Wunnerful, wunnerful." Although he delighted the older crowd, youngsters were usually not so enamored. As polarizing in his own folksy way as Elvis Presley was in his, the inimitable Lawrence Welk—creator and King of "Champagne Music"—was born in rural North Dakota on March 11, 1903.
Welk's parents were immigrants from Alsace-Lorraine who spoke only German to the nine children they raised on their farm outside Strasburg, North Dakota. In fact, Lawrence Welk did not learn English until his early 20s, which explains the accent that became his trademark. A dutiful son, Welk dropped out of school in the fourth grade to work full time on the family farm, but he decided early on that he wished to pursue a career in music. He learned to play the accordion from his father, who carried his own antique instrument with him when he immigrated to America. Lawrence wore out the inexpensive, mail-order accordion bought for him as a boy, so he made a deal with his parents: In exchange for a $400 loan to purchase a professional accordion, he would stay and work on the family farm through the age of 21. Playing small professional gigs in the surrounding area, Welk honed his musical skills and earned enough money to pay his parents back when he left home for good in 1924.
By the early 1930s, Lawrence Welk had earned a degree in music and made a name for himself as the leader of a traveling orchestra. He had also failed in a restaurant venture selling "squeezeburgers" cooked on an accordion-shaped grill, but he had succeeded in developing a unique brand as the proponent of a pleasing pop style dubbed "Champagne Music" for its light and bubbly quality. After two decades of success in the Midwest, Welk made his way to Los Angeles in 1951, taking up residence with his orchestra at the Aragon Ballroom in Pacific Ocean Park. He made his first appearance on local television the following year, and his show was picked up by ABC in 1955. When ABC dropped The Lawrence Welk Show in 1971, Welk independently arranged a syndication deal that kept him on the air for another 11 years and made him one of the richest entertainers in America. Born on this day in 1903, Lawrence Welk died at the age of 89 on May 17, 1992.
To quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was".


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Tony Figueroa
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