Monday, June 05, 2023

This Week in Television History: June 2023 PART I


June 6, 1998

Sex and the City premieres on HBO. On this day in 1998, the cable network HBO airs the pilot episode of Sex and the City, a new comedy series chronicling the lives and loves of four single women living in New York City.

The show’s creator, Darren Star, was best known at the time for producing the long-running Fox TV series Beverly Hills, 90210, and its spin-off, Melrose Place. For Sex and the City, Star switched coasts, loosely adapting a book by the same name by Candace Bushnell, compiled from a number of her columns for The New York Observer. In the pilot, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), who authors a similar newspaper column for the fictional New York City Star, and her three friends--Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon)--discuss the issue of whether women are capable of having sex like men. Carrie also has an embarrassing first run-in with Mr. Big (Chris Noth), with whom she will begin a tumultuous relationship that will last the length of the series.

Sex and the City didn’t really break out with fans until the second season, when the format of the show changed a bit: Carrie stopped addressing the camera directly, and simply provided a voice-over narration, and the man-on-the-street-type testimonials by different characters were largely omitted. The main premise--that each episode provides fodder for one of Carrie’s columns, each of which features a different question about sex, love and relationships--remained constant throughout the show, as did the unusually frank discussion and portrayal of sex that became the show’s hallmark.

At the Emmy Awards, Sex and the City was nominated in the category of Outstanding Comedy Series in each of its six seasons; it won the award in 2001. In 2004, Parker collected an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, while Cynthia Nixon triumphed in the supporting category. To win, Nixon beat out co-stars Davis and Cattrall, who had been nominated in five out of the six seasons of the show’s run. Cattrall and Parker both took home Golden Globe Awards for their performances as well, and the show received three Globes for Best TV Series - Musical or Comedy.

As soon as the series wrapped up in 2004, buzz began about a possible big-screen adaptation. Though the project stalled due to questions over money and Cattrall’s reported reluctance to sign on to the project, the plans finally came to fruition in late May 2008, when Sex and the City: The Movie was released to mixed reviews but great box-office success, including a $55.7 million opening weekend haul. As with the series, Parker served as an executive producer for the movie, which was written and directed by Michael Patrick King.

In solidarity

Tony Figueroa

Monday, May 29, 2023

This Week in Television History: May 2023 PART V

May 29, 2003

Bob Hope celebrates 100th birthday

Some 35 U.S. states declare it to be Bob Hope Day on this day in 2003, when the iconic comedic actor and entertainer turns 100 years old.

In a public ceremony held in Hollywood, city officials renamed the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Avenue--famous for its historic buildings and as a central point on the Hollywood Walk of Fame--Bob Hope Square. Several 1940s-era U.S. planes flew overhead as part of an air show honoring Hope’s longtime role as an entertainer of U.S. armed forces all over the world. Hope, who was then suffering from failing eyesight and hearing and had not been seen in public for three years, was too ill to attend the public ceremonies. Three of his children attended the naming ceremony, along with some of his younger show-business colleagues, including Mickey Rooney.

One of the leading talents on the vaudeville scene by the 1930s, the London-born, American-raised Hope met his future wife (of nearly seven decades), the nightclub singer Dolores Reade, while he was performing on Broadway in the musical Roberta. They married in 1934, and four years later Hope launched his own radio program, The Bob Hope Show, which would run for the next 18 years. One of the country’s most popular comics, Hope had a successful film career largely thanks to the series of seven “Road” movies he made with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour, including Road to Singapore (1940), Road to Morocco (1942), Road to Utopia (1946) and Road to Rio (1947).

In 1941, after America’s entrance into World War II, Hope began performing for U.S. troops abroad; he would play shows for more than a million American servicemen by 1953. Some 65 million people watched him perform for troops in Vietnam on Christmas Eve in 1966, in his largest broadcast. Hope also became a legend for his countless TV specials, which he would perform over the course of some five decades. He hosted the Academy Awards ceremony a total of 18 times, more than any other Oscars host.

Dubbed “Mr. Entertainment” and the “King of Comedy,” Hope died on July 27, 2003, less than two months after his 100th birthday celebration. He was survived by Dolores, their four adopted children--Linda, Anthony, Nora and Kelly--and four grandchildren.

May 30, 1908

Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and countless other Warner Bros. cartoon characters, was born in San Francisco. 

His parents, who ran a women's clothing business, moved with their son to Portland, Oregon, when Blanc was a child. Blanc began performing as a musician and singer on local radio programs in Portland before he was 20. In the late 1920s, he and his wife, Estelle, created a daily radio show called "Cobwebs and Nuts," which became a hit. Blanc made many other radio appearances and became a regular on Jack Benny's hit radio show, providing the sounds of Benny's ancient car (The Maxwell) and playing several other characters.

In 1937, Blanc made his debut with Warner Bros., providing the voice for a drunken bull in a short cartoon called "Picador Porky." Another actor provided the pig's voice, but Blanc later replaced him. In 1940, Bugs Bunny debuted in a short called "A Wild Hare." Blanc said he wanted the rabbit to sound tough and streetwise, so he created a comic combination of Bronx and Brooklyn accents. Other characters Blanc created for Warner Bros. included the Road Runner, Sylvester, and Tweety Bird. He performed in some 850 cartoons for Warner Bros. during his 50-year career. For other studios, he provided the voices of Barney Rubble and Dino the dinosaur in The Flintstones, Mr. Spacely for The Jetsons, and Woody Woodpecker's laugh.

In his 1988 autobiography, That's Not All Folks, Blanc described a nearly fatal traffic accident that left him in a coma. Unable to rouse him by using his real name, a doctor finally said, "How are you, Bugs Bunny?" and Mel replied, in Bugs' voice, "Ehh, just fine, doc. How are you?"

Blanc continued to provide voices until the late 1980s, most memorably voicing Daffy Duck dueling with Donald Duck in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). After Mel Blanc died of complications from heart disease, his son Noel, trained by his father, provided the voices for the characters the elder Blanc had helped bring to life.

May 31, 2013

Jean Stapleton died, surrounded by family and friends in New York City, of natural causes. 

She was 90 and is survived by her two children, John, a TV director, and Pamela, a TV producer.

Norman Lear said, "No one gave more profound 'how to be a human being' lessons than Jean Stapleton." Fellow US sitcom actress Roseanne Barr said that Stapleton's range was "unbelievable, deep and majestic." Co-star and BAFTA- and Oscar-nominated director and producer Rob Reiner said, "Working with her was one of the greatest experiences of my life." Sally Struthers said, "Jean lived so in the present. She was a Christian Scientist who didn't say or think a negative thing ... She was just a walking, living angel".

The marquee lights on Broadway were dimmed for one minute on June 5, 2013 at 8 p.m. EDT to honor the memory of Stapleton.

In solidarity

Tony Figueroa

Monday, May 22, 2023

This Week in Television History: May 2023 PART IV


May 23, 1933

Joan Collins is born. 

Joan Collins, a classically trained actress who will become best known for her role on the 1980s prime-time soap opera Dynasty, is born in London, England.

The daughter of a theatrical booking agent, Collins made her theater debut at the age of nine, in a production of The Dollhouse by Henrik Ibsen. As a teenager, she studied at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and appeared in nine British films. She headed to Hollywood at the age of 22, and landed sultry roles in several popular films, including Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955). She continued making films in the United States and the United Kingdom through the 1960s, but her career languished in the 1970s, and she was reduced to starring in horror flicks like Fear in the Night (1972). She also starred in two films based on best-selling novels by her younger sister Jackie Collins, The Stud (1978) and The Bitch (1979).

In 1981, Collins landed the plum role of Alexis Carrington (later Colby) in the prime-time soap opera Dynasty, which ran for eight years. Her portrayal of the vindictive ex-wife of the oil tycoon Blake Carrington--and the bitter rival of his current wife and former secretary, the beautiful blonde Krystle (played by Linda Evans)--rejuvenated Collins’ career, as buzz for the show began to grow and the Alexis-Krystle clash became one of its central plotlines. In one of Dynasty’s most memorable scenes, Alexis and Krystle come to blows in a lily pond; in another, Krystle dumps a bowl of mud on Alexis after she overhears her gossiping about her at a spa. After several years of declining ratings, ABC dropped Dynasty from its lineup in 1989.  In 1997, Collins reprised the role of Alexis on Aaron Spelling’s Pacific Palisades. She later joined former cast mates in two reunion specials, most recently Caviar and Catfights: The Dynasty Reunion (2006).

By the late 1980s, Collins followed in her sister Jackie’s footsteps and published her first novel, which she sold to Simon and Schuster for a rumored $3 million. Despite critical pans, the book, Prime Time, became a bestseller when it debuted in 1988. Two years later, Random House offered Collins $4 million in a two-book deal, paying a $1.3 million advance, with the rest due on delivery of the manuscripts. When Collins turned in the first of the two manuscripts in 1991, the publishing house claimed the manuscript was unacceptable and sued for the return of the advance. In 1996, the court ruled in favor of Collins and demanded that Random House pay her an additional $1 million for the work she turned in. Her zest for writing was apparently unquenched by the battle--she published the beauty book My Secrets in 1994, followed by Second Act in 1996 and a sequel My Secrets, My Friends’ Secrets, in 1999.

In addition to her writing career, Collins has continued to act, appearing in films such as Kenneth Branagh’s In the Bleak Midwinter (1995) and The Flinstones in Viva Rock Vegas (2000), and television series (Will & Grace, Footballers’ Wives) in the United States and the United Kingdom. Since 2002, Collins has been married to her fifth husband, Percy Gibson, who is more than three decades her junior.

May 28, 1998

Comic Phil Hartman killed by wife Brynn, in a murder-suicide. 

He was 49. Born on September 24, 1948, in Ontario, Canada, Hartman was raised in Connecticut and Southern California, and later became an American citizen. Early on, he found work designing record album covers (he created the official logo for the rock band Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) but made the leap to acting in 1975 when he joined the L.A. improvisational acting group, the Groundlings. With his fellow Groundlings alum, Paul Reubens, Hartman wrote the screenplay for the successful comedy Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985). Along with Reubens, Hartman had helped create the zany man-child character of Pee Wee Herman, though Reubens received most of the credit. From 1986 to 1990, Hartman portrayed Kap’n Karl on the Saturday morning children’s TV series Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

Also in 1986, Hartman earned a spot on the long-running NBC sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. In his eight years on the show, Hartman became known for his spot-on impersonations of a variety of celebrities, notably President Bill Clinton. He also made frequent guest appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. In 1989, Hartman shared an Emmy Award for his writing contributions to Saturday Night Live. He went on to set a record for the most appearances (153) as one of the show’s regulars.

Hartman joined the cast of the TV sitcom NewsRadio in 1995. He played the egotistical anchorman of an AM radio news station in New York City through four seasons of the show’s five-year run. The ensemble cast also included Dave Foley, Maura Tierney and Andy Dick. Hartman also notably provided the voices for a number of characters, including the has-been actor Troy McClure and the incompetent lawyer Lionel Hurtz, on the acclaimed animated series The Simpsons. In addition to his TV work as an actor and pitchman (for MCI, McDonald’s and Cheetos, among others), Hartman appeared on the big screen in Blind Date (1987), Jingle All the Way (1996) and Small Soldiers, released after his death.

Off-screen, Hartman was popular among his Hollywood colleagues and known for being completely different from some of the more unlikable characters he had portrayed. The murder-suicide, which shocked fans and friends alike, occurred early on the morning of May 28, 1998, at the couple’s home in the Los Angeles suburb of Encino. According to news reports, Brynn, Hartman’s third wife (two previous marriages ended in divorce) had a history of drug and alcohol problems. The couple had two children.

In solidarity

Tony Figueroa

Monday, May 15, 2023

This Week in Television History: May 2023 PART III

May 17, 1973

Televised Watergate hearings begin
In Washington, D.C., the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, headed by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina, begins televised hearings on the escalating Watergate affair. One week later, Harvard law professor Archibald Cox was sworn in as special Watergate prosecutor.
On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested for breaking into and illegally wiretapping the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. One of the suspects, James W. McCord Jr., was revealed to be the salaried security coordinator for President Richard Nixon's reelection committee. Two other men with White House ties were later implicated in the break-in: E. Howard Hunt, Jr., a former White House aide, and G. Gordon Liddy, finance counsel for the Committee for the Re-election of the President. Journalists and the Select Committee discovered a higher-echelon conspiracy surrounding the incident, and a political scandal of unprecedented magnitude erupted.

In May 1973, the special Senate committee began televised proceedings on the Watergate affair. During the Senate hearings, former White House legal counsel John Dean testified that the Watergate break-in had been approved by former Attorney General John Mitchell with the knowledge of chief White House advisers John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman, and that President Nixon had been aware of the cover-up. Meanwhile, Watergate prosecutor Cox and his staff began to uncover widespread evidence of political espionage by the Nixon reelection committee, illegal wiretapping of thousands of citizens by the administration, and contributions to the Republican Party in return for political favors.

In July, the existence of what were to be called the Watergate tapes--official recordings of White House conversations between Nixon and his staff--was revealed during the Senate hearings. Cox subpoenaed these tapes, and after three months of delay President Nixon agreed to send summaries of the recordings. Cox rejected the summaries, and Nixon fired him. His successor as special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, leveled indictments against several high-ranking administration officials, including Mitchell and Dean, who were duly convicted.

Public confidence in the president rapidly waned, and by the end of July 1974 the House Judiciary Committee had adopted three articles of impeachment against President Nixon: obstruction of justice, abuse of presidential powers, and hindrance of the impeachment process. On July 30, under coercion from the Supreme Court, Nixon finally released the Watergate tapes. On August 5, transcripts of the recordings were released, including a segment in which the president was heard instructing Haldeman to order the FBI to halt the Watergate investigation. Four days later, Nixon became the first president in U.S. history to resign. On September 8, his successor, President Gerald Ford, pardoned him from any criminal charges.

May 20, 1993

The final episode of Cheers Titled One for the Road

This episode serves as the 271st episode and the 25th episode of the eleventh season of Cheers. It first aired on NBC in Thursday, May 20, 1993, to an audience of approximately 42.4 million households in a 98 minute version, making it the second-highest-rated series finale of all time behind the series finale of M*A*S*H and the highest-rated episode of the 1992-1993 television season in the United States. The 98 minute version was re-shown on Sunday, May 23, 1993, and an edited 90 minute version aired on Thursday, August 19, 1993.

In solidarity

Tony Figueroa

Friday, May 12, 2023

Your Mental Sorbet: Michael McKean Sings "Milwaukee Moon"

Here is another 
that we could use to momentarily forget about those
things that leave a bad taste in our mouths

Playing live with the Employee of the Month House band featuring Rob Jost, Chris Sullivan, Eric Biondo and Andrew Bancroft.

The cast of Laverne & Shirley (Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams, Michael McKean, David L. Lander, Eddie Mekka, Betty Garrett, and Phil Foster) perform Milwaukee Moon on Laverne & Shirley, S3E18: Bus Stop.

In solidarity

Tony Figueroa

Monday, May 08, 2023

This Week in Television History: May 2023 PART II


May 10, 1983

Laverne & Shirley ended its 8 season run.

The show was a spin-off from Happy Days, as the two lead characters were originally introduced on that series as acquaintances of Fonzie. Set in roughly the same time period as Happy Days, the Laverne & Shirley timeline started in approximately 1958, when the series began, through 1967, when the series ended (A January 1975 episode of its progenitor "Happy Days", had a story about the November 1956 presidential election).

May 14, 1998

Frank Sinatra dies of a heart attack in Los Angeles, at the age of 82.

Sinatra emerged from an Italian-American family in Hoboken, New Jersey, to become the first modern superstar of popular music, with an entertainment career that spanned more than five decades. In the first incarnation of his singing career, he was a master of the romantic ballads popular during World War II. After his appeal began to wane in the late 1940s, Sinatra reinvented himself as a suave swinger with a rougher, world-weary singing style, and began a spectacular comeback in the 1950s.

In addition to his great musical success, Sinatra appeared in 58 films; one of his earliest was Anchors Aweigh (1945). Playing a cocky Italian-American soldier who meets a violent death in From Here to Eternity (1953), co-starring Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift, Sinatra won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. His film career flourished after that, as he starred as Nathan Detroit in the movie musical Guys and Dolls (1955) and played a heroin addict in The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), for which he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor. He also starred in the musicals High Society (1956) and Pal Joey (1957) and turned in a memorable performance as an Army investigator in the acclaimed film The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

By the late 1950s, Sinatra had become the epitome of show-business success and glamorous, rough-edged masculinity. He even headed up his own entourage, known as the Rat Pack, which included Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. The group had originally formed around Humphrey Bogart, who died in 1957. The Rat Pack first appeared together on the big screen in 1960’s casino caper Ocean’s Eleven. They would go on to make Sergeant’s Three (1962), Four for Texas (1963) and Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964). Onscreen and in real life, the Pack’s famous stomping grounds included Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York (notably the Copacabana Club).

Sinatra worked steadily in film throughout the 1960s, though many of his performances seemed almost perfunctory. His last major Hollywood role came in 1980’s The First Deadly Sin. A famous heartthrob, Sinatra married four times, divorcing his longtime sweetheart Nancy Barbato after a decade and three children (Nancy, Frank Jr. and Christina) to marry the actress Ava Gardner in 1951. Their marriage lasted less than two years, and in 1966 Sinatra married the 21-year-old actress Mia Farrow, 30 years his junior; they were divorced in 1968. In 1976, he married Barbara Blakely Marx (the former wife of Zeppo Marx), and they remained together until his death.

May 14, 1998

Last episode of Seinfeld aired. 

The show starred comedian Jerry Seinfeld and was created by Seinfeld and Larry David. Though Seinfeld originally intended the show to be about how a comedian gathers material for his show, it was later better known as the “show about nothing” that was able to draw comedic absurdity from ordinary day-to-day events. Originally, each show began and ended with clips of Seinfeld performing stand-up that related to that episode’s plot.

Seinfeld's ensemble cast included Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss), George Constanza (Jason Alexander) and Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards), all the main characters in the show were based on Seinfeld’s or David’s real-life friends and acquaintances. When the pilot (Originally titled The Seinfeld Chronicles) aired on July 5, 1989, reception was luke warm. The show was picked up by NBC and attracted a loyell following. Each episode's story line would be discussed at the water-cooler the folowing morning (One sparked a lawsuit). The show also introduced new catch phrases into the national lexicon, including “yada yada yada,” “shrinkage,” “man hands” and “spongeworthy.”

The much-anticipated final episode was watched by an estimated 76 million viewers. Advertisers paid the then-record sum of $1.7 million for a 30-second spot in the show.

The 180 episodes of Seinfeld continue to air in syndication around the world. 

In solidarity

Tony Figueroa

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Bill Saluga

"NOOO!!! You don't have to call me Johnson! My name is Raymond J. Johnson Jr. Now you can call me Ray, or you can call me J, or you can call me Johnny, or you can call me Sonny, or you can call me Junie, or you can call me Junior; now you can call me Ray J, or you can call me RJ, or you can call me RJJ, or you can call me RJJ Jr. . . but you doesn't hasta call me Johnson!"

William Saluga as Raymond J. Johnson Jr.

September 16, 1937 – March 28, 2023

William Saluga (September 16, 1937 – March 28, 2023) was an American comedian and founding member of the improvisational comedy troupe Ace Trucking Company. He appeared on several television programs, including Seinfeld.

Best known for his cigar-smoking, zoot-suit-wearing television character Raymond J. Johnson Jr., famous for his catchphrase "You can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay, or you can call me…" The character then proceeds to list almost every conceivable permutation of his name before finishing with "…but you doesn't has to call me Johnson!"

Good Night Mr. Saluga
In solidarity

Tony Figueroa 

Saturday, May 06, 2023

Newton N. Minow

When television is good, nothing—not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers—nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

-Newton N. Minow

Newton Norman Minow

January 17, 1926 – May 6, 2023

Newton Minow was an American attorney who served as chair of the Federal Communications Commission. He is famous for his speech referring to television as a "vast wasteland". While still maintaining a law practice, Minow served as the Honorary Consul General of Singapore in Chicago, beginning in 2001.

Minow was active in Democratic Party politics. He was an attorney in private practice concerning telecommunications law and was active in many nonprofit, civic, and educational institutions. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 by Barack Obama, whom he had known since the start of Obama's legal career.

While some applauded his "vast wasteland" assault on commercial television as a welcome criticism of excessive violence and frivolity, others criticized it as an elitistsnobbish attack on programming that many viewers enjoyed as well as a government intrusion into private enterprise. The S.S. Minnow of the 1964–67 television show Gilligan's Island was reputedly sarcastically named after him to express displeasure with his assessment of the quality of television.

Good Night Mr. Minow
Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Monday, May 01, 2023

This Week in Television History: May 2023 PART I


May 5, 1993

The final episode of Quantum Leap aired on NBC. 

At the end of season five, Bellisario was told to write an episode that could serve as a season finale or series finale, as it was unclear whether Quantum Leap would be renewed. The episode contained some answers to long-standing questions about the show, but contained enough ambiguity for a season six. When the show was not renewed, two title cards were tacked on to the end of the last episode; one read that Al's first wife Beth never remarried, so they were still married in the present day and had four daughters. The last title cards said "Sam Becket never returned home." The finale was met by viewers with mixed feelings.

A few years after the airing of the finale, a script for an alternate ending was leaked on the internet. It implied that Al, through encouragement of his wife Beth, would become a leaper to go after Sam and that they would be leaping into the future. Bellisario has said no script exists and that he does not know where this idea came from. In 2018, however, fan Allison Pregler purchased title cards taken from season five that contained some shots of Al and Beth together; this implies that part of the alternate ending was, in fact, shot and gives credibility to the alternate-ending scenario. In May 2019, a video of the lost footage was uploaded to Reddit by a contributor with the handle Leaper1953. How this person obtained the footage is not known publicly. Scott Bakula confirmed that several endings were shot and that the footage was authentic.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa