Monday, March 19, 2018

This Week in Television History: March 2017 PART III

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 19, 1953
First Academy Awards program on network TV (NBC). 
The first network broadcast of the Academy Awards takes place on this day in 1953. Some 174 stations across the country carried the awards. Gary Cooper won Best Actor for his performance in High Noon, and Shirley Booth won Best Actress for her role in Come Back, Little Sheba. The Greatest Show on Earth won Best Picture. for the first time, audiences are able to sit in their living rooms and watch as the movie world’s most prestigious honors, the Academy Awards, are given out at the RKO Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, California.
Organized in May 1927, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was envisioned as a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the film industry. The first Academy Awards were handed out in May 1929, in a ceremony and banquet held in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The level of suspense was nonexistent, however, as the winners had already been announced several months earlier. For the next 10 years, the Academy gave the names of the winners to the newspapers for publication at 11 p.m. on the night of the awards ceremony; this changed after one paper broke the tacit agreement and published the results in the evening edition, available before the ceremony began. A sealed envelope system began the next year, and endures to this day, making Oscar night Hollywood’s most anticipated event of the year.
Public interest in the Oscars was high from the beginning, and from the second year on the ceremony was covered in a live radio broadcast. The year 1953 marked the first time that the Academy Awards were broadcast on the fledgling medium of television. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) TV network carried the 25th annual awards ceremony live from Hollywood’s RKO Pantages Theatre. Bob Hope was the master of ceremonies, while Fredric March, a two-time Academy Award winner for Best Actor (for 1932’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and 1946’s The Best Years of Our Lives), presented the awards. The statuette for Best Picture went to Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth, while John Ford won Best Director for The Quiet Man. Winners in the top two acting categories were Gary Cooper (High Noon) and Shirley Booth (Come Back, Little Sheba).
Hope, a star of stage and screen who tirelessly performed in United Service Organization (USO) shows for American troops during World War II, would become a mainstay of the new TV medium. He was also the most venerated Academy Awards host, playing MC no fewer than 18 times between 1939 and 1977. NBC broadcast the Oscars until 1961, when the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) took over for the next decade, including the first awards broadcast in color in 1966. Although NBC briefly regained the show in the early 1970s, ABC came out on top again in 1976 and has broadcast every Academy Awards show since. The network is under contract to continue showing the Oscars until 2014.

Ratings for the Academy Awards have been notoriously uneven, with larger audiences tending to tune in when box-office hits are nominated for high-profile awards such as Best Picture. When Titanic won big in 1998, for example, the Oscar telecast drew 55 million viewers; the triumph of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2004 drew 44 million. The 80th Academy Awards ceremony, held in February 2008, drew the lowest ratings since 1953, with a total of about 32 million viewers--just 18.7 percent of America’s homes--tuned in to the telecast. Analysts blamed the relative obscurity of the Best Picture nominees--the winner, No Country For Old Men, made a relatively puny $64 million at the box office--and the lingering effects of a Hollywood writers’ strike for the poor viewer turnout.
March 19, 1983
Diff'rent Strokes - The Reporter (Season 5: Episode 22).
Determined to prove he didn't fabricate a story about drug abuse in his grade school just to win a journalism contest, Arnold takes his article to the New York City newspaper sponsoring the competition, and when

March 20, 1928
Fred McFeely Rogers is born. 

Mr.  Rogers was most famous for creating and hosting Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1968–2001), which featured his gentle, soft-spoken personality and directness to his audiences. Initially educated to be a minister, Rogers was displeased with the way television addressed children and made an effort to change this when he began to write for and perform on local Pittsburgh-area shows dedicated to youth. WQED developed his own show in 1968 and it was distributed nationwide by Eastern Educational Television Network. Over the course of three decades on television, Fred Rogers became an indelible American icon of children's entertainment and education, as well as a symbol of compassion, patience, and morality. He was also known for his advocacy of various public causes. His testimony before a lower court in favor of fair use recording of television shows to play at another time (now known as time shifting) was cited in a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Betamax case, and he gave now-famous testimony to a U.S. Senate committee, advocating government funding for children's television.

March 21, 1983
The last episode of the long-running TV series Little House on the Prairie aired.

The series, based on the children's book by Laura Ingalls Wilder, premiered in 1974. The show was one of television's 25 most highly rated shows for seven of its nine seasons. When series star and executive producer Michael Landon decided to leave the show in 1982, the show's title changed to Little House: A New Beginning  and focused on character Laura Ingalls Wilder (Melissa Gilbert) and her family. The show lasted only one more season. Three made-for-television movie sequels followed: Little House: Look Back to Yesterday (1983), Little House: Bless All the Dear Children (1983), and Little House: The Last Farewell (1984). 

March 25, 1983
Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever aired.
Technically, the 25th anniversary of Motown Records should have been celebrated nine months later, in January 1984, but that was only one of several details glossed over in staging the landmark television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. Filmed before a rapturous live audience on March 25, 1983, the Motown 25 special is perhaps best remembered for Michael Jackson's performance of "Billie Jean," which brought the house down and introduced much of the world to the "moonwalk." There were other great performances that night, too, but there were also moments that revealed cracks in the joyous-reunion image that Motown chief Berry Gordy sought to portray.
The most glaring breakdown in decorum came during what could have been the evening's greatest triumph: the reunion of Diana Ross and the Supremes. When Ross, Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong performed together that night for the first time in 13 years, they took to the stage with something closer to 20 years' worth of unresolved resentment among them. Early in their performance of "Someday We'll Be Together," as Diana slowly moved upstage, Mary and Cindy had the audacity to keep stride alongside her. Diana turned around and angrily pushed Mary back—a move that was carefully edited out of the later broadcast but which prompted Smokey Robinson and others to take the stage and form an impromptu chorus/demilitarized zone between the warring Supremes.
The "Battle of the Bands" medley between the Temptations and the Four Tops was a much bigger creative success, though the biggest individual names in the Temptations—Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin—were absent due to squabbling within the group, leaving Melvin Franklin and Otis Williams as the only original Temptations on stage that night. Also missing from the stage that night was a man whose name was then unfamiliar to all but the most obsessive Motown fans, but whose contribution to the label's success was monumental. The late James Jamerson, whose bass guitar formed the foundation of almost every great Motown record of the 1960s, was in the building that night, but as a paying member of the audience seated in the back rows. His own troubles with alcohol abuse played a part in his estrangement from the Motown "family," but so did a decades-long history of what he and fellow members of the Funk Brothers—the Motown backing band—felt was a lack of appreciation and respect for their role in creating the famous Motown sound.

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


Stay Tuned


Tony Figueroa
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