Monday, January 07, 2019

This Week in Television History: January 2019 PART I

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.
Donna Allen-Figueroa


January 4, 1984
The first episode of Night Court aired on NBC. 
The setting was the night shift of a Manhattan court, presided over by the young, unorthodox Judge Harold T. "Harry" Stone (played by Harry Anderson). It was created by comedy writer Reinhold Weege, who had previously worked on Barney Miller in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Anderson had developed a following with his performances on Saturday Night Live and made several successful appearances as con man "Harry the Hat" on another NBC sitcom, Cheers. (For the first several years of its run, Night Court aired on NBC Thursday nights after Cheers.) In later seasons, while Anderson remained the key figure, John Larroquette became the breakout personality, winning a number of awards and many fans for his performance as the lecherous Dan Fielding.
The comedy style on Night Court changed as the series progressed. During its initial seasons, the show was often compared to Barney Miller. In addition to being created by a writer of that show, Night Court (like Barney Miller) was set in New York City, featured quirky, often dry humor, and dealt with a staff who tried to cope with a parade of eccentric, often neurotic criminals and complainants. Furthering this comparison, these characters were routinely played by character actors who had made frequent guest appearances on Barney Miller, including Stanley Brock, Philip Sterling, Peggy Pope, and Alex Henteloff. But while the characters appearing in the courtroom (and the nature of their transgressions) were often whimsical, bizarre or humorously inept, the show initially took place in the 'real world'. In an early review of the show, Time magazine called Night Court, with its emphasis on non-glamorous, non-violent petty crime, the most realistic law show on the air.
Gradually, however, Night Court abandoned its initial "real world" setting, and changed to what could best be described as broad, almost slapstick comedy. Logic and realism were frequently sidelined for more surreal humor, such as having the cartoon character, Wile E. Coyote, as a defendant and convicting him for harassment of the Road Runner with an admonition to find a meal by some other means.

January 9, 1959
Rawhide premiered. 

The Western series starring Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood aired for eight seasons on CBS network with a total of 217 black-and-white episodes. The series was produced and sometimes directed by Charles Marquis Warren, who also produced early episodes of Gunsmoke.

January 9, 1979
Pop luminaries gather at the U.N. for the Music for UNICEF concert.
In an effort to call attention to the poverty, malnutrition and lack of access to quality education affecting millions of children throughout the developing world, the United Nations proclaimed 1979 the "International Year of the Child." To publicize the proclamation and raise money for UNICEF—the United Nation's Children's Fund—plans were laid for a concert fundraiser featuring dozens of leading lights of late-70s pop. Staged in the U.N. General Assembly Hall in New York City on January 9, 1979, the show was subsequently broadcast around the world as "The Music for UNICEF Concert: A Gift of Song."
The prime movers behind the Music for UNICEF concert were the Bee Gees, their manager Robert Stigwood and the British television host David Frost, of Frost-Nixon fame. The 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, which raised millions for UNICEF through ticket sales and royalties from the concert film and album, provided the template that the Bee Gees et al. planned to follow, with an important, added twist. The organizers of the 1979 concert asked all participating stars to donate to UNICEF the royalties from the song they performed during the show. Another key difference between the two concerts was a rather dramatic difference in musical esthetics. The Concert for Bangladesh featured Ravi Shankar, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton performing songs like "Bangla Dun," "My Sweet Lord" and "Blowin' in the Wind." The Music for UNICEF concert, on the other hand, featured ABBA, Andy Gibb and Rod Stewart singing songs like "Chiquita," "I Go for You" and, most improbably considering the occasion, "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?"
Suffice it to say that when viewed with the benefit of hindsight, there is a very strong only-in-1979 vibe about the Music for UNICEF concert: John Denver and Donna Summer on the same stage; Henry Winkler (the Fonz) introducing Rod Stewart; and, most charmingly, the late Gilda Radner introducing "Benny-Bror-Goran-Andersson-Bjorn-Christian-Ulvaeus-Agnetha-Ase-Anna-Faltskog-Ulvaeus-Anni-Frida-Lyngstad. Or to put it another way - ABBA!" It is not clear exactly how much money the Music for UNICEF concert actually raised, or whether all of the participating artists actually signed over all future royalties on the songs they performed. At the very least, the Bee Gees' contribution to the effort, "Too Much Heaven," would go on to be a #1 pop hit and raise more than $7 million for the charitable programs of UNICEF.

January 9, 1984
Clara Peller was first seen by TV viewers in the "Where's the Beef?" commercial campaign for Wendy's.
Peller's "Where's the beef" line instantly became a catchphrase across the United States. The diminutive octogenarian actress made the three-word phrase a cultural phenomenon, and herself a cult star. At Wendy's, sales jumped 31% to $945 million in 1985 worldwide. Wendy's senior vice president for communications, Denny Lynch, stated at the time that "with Clara we accomplished as much in five weeks as we did in 14½ years." Former Vice-President Walter Mondale also used the line against rival Senator Gary Hart in his bid for the Democratic nomination in the 1984 presidential campaign.
While hugely popular, the advertising campaign proved to be short-lived, at least for Wendy's. Peller had made actor scale wages – $317.40 per day – for the initial Wendy's TV commercial of the campaign in January 1984. Her fee for subsequent work as a Wendy's spokesperson was not disclosed, though Peller admitted in an interview with People magazine to having earned US$30,000 from the first two commercials and profits from product tie-in sales. Wendy's later alleged that the company had paid Peller a total of $500,000 for her work on the campaign, though Peller denied earning that much.
Per the terms of her Screen Actors Guild union contract, the actress was free to participate in any commercials for products, goods or services, which did not directly compete with Wendy's hamburgers. She subsequently signed a contract with the Campbell Soup Company to appear in an advertisement for PregoPasta Plus spaghetti sauce. In the Prego commercial, Peller examines the Prego sauce and after wondering "Where's the beef?" declares, "I found it! I really found it". However, after the Prego commercial aired on television in 1985, Wendy's management decided to terminate her contract, contending that the Prego commercial implies "that Clara found the beef at somewhere other than Wendy's restaurants". In announcing the dismissal, Wendy's Denny Lynch stated, "Clara can find the beef only in one place, and that is Wendy's". Peller's response was short and swift: "I've made them millions, and they don't appreciate me."
Following the conclusion of the "Where's the beef" campaign, Wendy's Restaurants entered a two-year sales slump. Vice President Lynch later admitted that consumer awareness of the Wendy's brand did not recover for another five years, with the advent of a new, humorous line of TV commercials featuring the brand's founder, Dave Thomas.

January 9, 1999
The first episode of Providence aired on NBC. 

The show revolves around Dr. Sydney Hansen (played by Kanakaredes), who left her glamorous job in Beverly Hills as a plastic surgeon for the rich, so she could return to her hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, and be with her family. Sydney lives with her father Jim, brother Robbie, sister Joanie, and sister's baby Hannah in a large home in suburban Providence that also houses her father's veterinary clinic. Sydney's mother dies in the first episode but continued to appear to Sydney as a spirit, and to offer advice.
The show ends rather abruptly, with a two-part wedding episode. NBC called this Providence's "winter finale," fully expecting to bring it back in the spring or autumn of 2003, but these plans were eventually scrapped when some cast members, including Melina Kanakaredes, opted out of producing a sixth season. 

January 10, 1999
HBO began airing the series The Sopranos.

The Sopranos is an American television drama created by David Chase. The series revolves around the New Jersey-based Italian-American mobster Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and the difficulties he faces as he tries to balance the conflicting requirements of his home life and the criminal organization he heads. Those difficulties are often highlighted through his ongoing professional relationship with psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). The show features Tony's family members and Mafia colleagues and rivals in prominent roles and story arcs, most notably his wife Carmela (Edie Falco) and his cousin and protégé Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli).
After a pilot of the series was ordered in 1997, the series premiered on the premium cable network HBO in the United States on January 10, 1999, and ended its original run of six seasons and 86 episodes on June 10, 2007. The series then went through syndication and has been broadcast on A&E in the United States and internationally. The Sopranos was produced by HBO, Chase Films, and Brad Grey Television. It was primarily filmed at Silvercup Studios, New York City, and on location in New Jersey. The executive producers throughout the show's run were Chase, Brad Grey, Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess, Ilene S. Landress, Terence Winter, and Matthew Weiner.

January 11, 1949
NBC links its East and Midwest TV networks, celebrating with a special ceremonial telecast. 

Radio network NBC had started experimenting with television broadcasts as early as 1938 and began regular service in 1939, starting with the World's Fair in New York. NBC and CBS both received commercial licenses for stations in New York City on July 1, 1941. NBC launched its first TV network in 1946 by transmitting programs from its New York station to its Philadelphia and Schenectady stations. The company didn't open its Midwest network until September of 1948. The West Coast was added in September 1951, creating the country's first coast-to-coast network.

January 11, 1979
Jack Soo Died. Soo was diagnosed with esophageal cancer during Barney Miller's fifth season (1978–79). 

The cancer spread quickly, and Soo died on January 11, 1979 at age 61. His last appearance on the show was in the episode entitled "The Vandal," which aired on November 9, 1978.
Because his character (and Soo himself) was so beloved, a special retrospective episode was made, showing clips of his best moments, which aired at the end of the season. The most poignant moment of the show came at the end, when the cast members raised their coffee cups in a final farewell toast to the late actor.
Soo's last words to his Barney Miller co-star Hal Linden before his death were: "It must have been the coffee."

January 12, 1949
Arthur Godfrey and His Friends was debuted on CBS-TV. 
The show stayed on the network for seven years. 
The hour-long series aired on CBS Television from January 1949 to June 1957 (as The Arthur Godfrey Show after September 1956), then again as a half-hour show from September 1958 to April 1959.
Many of Godfrey's musical acts were culled from Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, which was airing on CBS at the same time. Among the more popular of his singers were Frank ParkerMarion MarloweJanette DavisJulius La RosaHalelokeThe MarinersThe McGuire SistersCarmel QuinnPat BooneMiyoshi Umeki and The Chordettes. The show was live, and Godfrey often did away with the script and improvised. In addition, unlike his morning show Arthur Godfrey Time, the evening show often presented celebrity guests. He refused to participate in commercials for products he did not believe in.
The series was a hit in the Nielsen ratings in the early to mid 1950s, often finishing just behind Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. It ranked #18 in the 1950-1951 season, #6 in 1951-1952, #3 in 1952-1953, #6 in 1953-1954 and #22 in 1954-1955. Arthur Godfrey and His Friends also earned a nomination for an Emmy Award in 1953 for Best Variety Program.

January 12, 1949

Kukla, Fran and Ollie, the Chicago-based children’s show, made its national debut on NBC-TV. 
Burr Tillstrom was the creator and only puppeteer on the show, which premiered as the hour-long Junior Jamboree locally on WBKB in Chicago, Illinois, on October 13, 1947. The program was renamed Kukla, Fran and Ollie (KFO) and transferred to WNBQ (the predecessor of Chicago's WMAQ-TV) on November 29, 1948. The first NBC network broadcast of the show took place on January 12, 1949. It aired from 6–6:30 p.m. Central Time, Monday through Friday from Chicago.

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


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Tony Figueroa
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