Tag Archives: ABC

S.W.A.T.? SWEET!

24 Feb

36 years ago tonight, on Monday, February 24, 1975, the series “S.W.A.T.” premiered on ABC.

One week earlier, on Feb 17, the 2-hour pilot aired, but the first episode of the series was broadcast on this date in TV history.

Postcard sent to fans of “S.W.A.T.” in the 1970s

Like most civilians (and most 14-year olds) I had never heard of a S.W.A.T. team before, but this show made the acronym a common household term. S.W.A.T. stands for Special Weapons and Tactics. In many big city police departments it’s the unit that’s called in for those heavy-duty assignments when street cops just aren’t enough.

The series “S.W.A.T.” was set in an unnamed California city and featured the five men in the unit. Actor Steve Forrest starred as Lt. Dan “Hondo” Harrelson, the Commanding Officer. Second in command was Sgt. David “Deacon” Kay, played by Rod Perry. A young Robert Urich portrayed Officer Jim Street, while James Coleman and Mark Shera played Officers T.J. McCabe and Dominic Luca, respectively.

Reverse side of the same postcard, featuring "autographs" of the actors

S.W.A.T.” was a Spelling-Goldberg production and was technically a spin-off of “The Rookies,” also on ABC. “S.W.A.T.” ran February 1975 until June 1976.

Another fun memory: The “Theme from ‘S.W.A.T.’” performed by Rhythm Heritage became a #1 hit song in 1975.

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KING OF THE MINI-SERIES

20 Feb

64 years ago today, on Thursday, February 20, 1947 actor Peter Strauss, the king of the mini-series, was born in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.                        

Strauss’s earliest TV appearances were in the early 1970s in episodes of shows like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Hawaii Five-O,” and “Medical Center.” It was the groundbreaking mini-series “Rich Man, Poor Man” which premiered February 1, 1976 on ABC that catapulted Strauss to stardom. It did the same for another young actor named Nick Nolte.

An autographed photo of Peter Strauss, from the 1970s.

What made “Rich Man, Poor Man” unique was that it aired weekly for just 7 weeks with just 9 episodes. It was the first time any series was scheduled this way and it turned out to be a blockbuster.

That led to a sequel called “Rich Man, Poor Man Book II“ which premiered as a regular weekly series in September 1976. It ran for just one season. Strauss then became the “go-to” guy for starring roles in mini-series, including “Masada,” “Tender Is the Night,” and one of my all-time favorites, “Kane & Abel.” (Really, ANY film with an almost shirtless Ed Asner would be one of my all-time favorites).

Peter Strauss has also starred in many TV movies like “Young Joe, the Forgotten Kennedy,” “Angel on My Shoulder,” and “The Jericho Mile” which won him an Emmy Award as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Special.

A close-up of Peter Strauss's autograph on the above photo.

Strauss may also be known by some who love the outdoors. A ranch he once sold to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy is now part of the National Park Service. “Peter Strauss Ranch” is located in Cornell, California.

Peter Strauss will be appearing in the play “Divine Rivalry” at Hartford Stage in Connecticut starting this Thursday, February 24th.

SITTING IN FOR JOHNNY…

4 Feb

75 years ago today, on Tuesday, February 4, 1936 comedian David Brenner was born in Philadelphia.

After a first career as a writer and producer of TV documentaries, and already in his 30s, Brenner left his job and gave himself one year to make it as a standup comedian. Just as that year was coming to a close David Brenner made an appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in 1971. From that day on he has had a career in comedy and he gives “The Tonight Show” all the credit.

In fact, according to Brenner, he appeared on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” 158 times, which Brenner says is the record for most appearances by any guest on the show. He also guest-hosted for Johnny more than 50 times.

Publicity photo for David Brenner in “Snip,” an NBC sitcom that never made it to the air.

Although Brenner made hundreds, perhaps thousands, of appearances on TV in the 1970s he has only had his own program once… almost twice. The photo above was from a David Brenner sitcom that was never broadcast. “Snip,” produced by James Komack, was on NBC’s fall schedule and set to premiere in September 1976, but it was abruptly canceled before a single episode aired.

Because “Snip” had an openly gay character, which would have been a first on TV, NBC apparently was concerned and decided not to break that barrier. One year later that distinction went to the character of Jodie Dallas (played by Billy Crystal) on ABC’s “Soap.”

If God Wanted us to Travel by David Brenner

David Brenner finally starred in his own program from September 1986 to May 1987, when he hosted a late night syndicated talk show. “Nightlife” was a 30-minute program with Billy Preston as musical director, but it could not find a niche and lasted just eight months.

David Brenner’s autograph inside If God Wanted us to Travel signed in 1990.

Brenner stopped touring for many years due to a custody battle involving his oldest son, but he is now back on the road.

Happy 75th David… I wish you many more. You made the 1970s a laugh riot for me and my friends.

SCHLEMIEL, SCHLEMAZEL…

27 Jan

35 years ago tonight, on Tuesday, January 27, 1976 “Laverne & Shirleypremiered on ABC.

The “Laverne & Shirley” marquee at Paramount Studios where the series was taped, June 1979.

The show starred Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams as bottle-cappers at a Milwaukee brewery. Like “Happy Days” the show was set in 1950s.

Technically “Laverne & Shirley” was a spin-off of “Happy Days” since the characters of Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney once went on a double date with Richie Cunningham and The Fonz. But in truth, that episode of “Happy Days” was just one way the producers tested out the new characters. Traditionally speaking, a spin-off is when a regular or recurring character from a series is given their own series. Prime examples of this would include “The Jeffersons,” “Lou Grant” and “Frasier.”

This writer at the historic Paramount Pictures gate on the lot where “Laverne & Shirley” was taped, June 1979.

The mid-season replacement series shot straight to the top of the ratings, finishing its short first season as the #3 primetime series. The next year it was #2, followed by two seasons as TV’s #1 show. By the 1979-1980 season “Laverne & Shirley” had dropped out of the top 10 for good.

Laverne & Shirley” ran for eight seasons (7 ½ really). In the fall of 1980 the setting moved from Milwaukee to California, and then in 1982 Cindy Williams left the show. It ran for one final season with just Laverne, no Shirley and left the airwaves in May 1983.

GOOD NIGHT JOHNNY!

23 Jan

6 years ago today, on Sunday, January 23, 2005 Johnny Carson, the “King of Late Night” died of complications from emphysema. He was 79. But before he died, Johnny Carson put his stamp on “The Tonight Show” and the television industry.

Early publicity photo of Johnny Carson as host of “The Tonight Show”

Carson was born to Homer and Ruth Carson on October 23, 1925 in Corning, Iowa.  After several moves to other towns in Iowa, the Carsons settled in Norfolk, Nebraska, where Johnny grew up idolizing comedian Jack Benny. It’s also where 14-year old Johnny Carson started performing as a magician; The Great Carsoni.

Johnny Carson in the U.S. Navy.

Carson served in the Navy aboard the U.S.S. Pennsylvania during World War II. After the war Carson attended the University of Nebraska and began working on WOW radio in Omaha. By 1950 he had moved to Los Angeles and on to television, eventually getting hired as a writer for Red Skelton.

Red Skelton with one of his writers, Johnny Carson.

One night, during rehearsal for the show, Skelton was injured and they asked Carson to fill in for the star. In one of those “only in Hollywood” stories Johnny Carson shined and started moving up in the world of TV.

Tickets to see "Do You Trust Your Wife?" and “Who Do You Trust?”

After several other programs, Carson seemed to hit it big in 1957 as the host of the ABC game show “Do You Trust Your Wife?” (later called “Who Do You Trust?”) That’s also where he was first partnered with announcer Ed McMahon. But the big time really came 5 years later when Carson replaced the seemingly irreplaceable Jack Paar as host of NBC’s “Tonight.”

A photo personally autographed to this writer by Johnny Carson in the 1970s.

Johnny Carson began his run as host of “The Tonight Show” on October 1, 1962 and didn’t leave until May 22, 1992… almost 30 full years. He turned himself into a superstar and “The Tonight Show” into an institution.

Front gate at the Beverly Hills home Johnny shared with his third wife Joanna. Photo taken in June 1979.

Once Carson left “The Tonight Show” in 1992 he pretty much retired from public life. He died on this date in 2005 after suffering from emphysema.

HAPPY DAYS & HAPPY NIGHTS

15 Jan

 

“Happy Days” marquee at Paramount studios, 1979.

37 years ago tonight, on Tuesday, January 15, 1974 the 1950s came to life on TV screens across America when “Happy Days” premiered on ABC.          

The main characters from “Happy Days”

What many don’t realize is that “Happy Days” was first introduced almost two years earlier in a segment of the anthology series “Love, American Style.” I remember seeing the episode and the segment, called “Love and the Happy Days,” when it first aired in February 1972. Actors Ron Howard, Marion Ross, and Anson Williams were in both the segment and the series. One notable difference was the casting of Harold Gould as Howard Cunningham.

The original cast of “Happy Days”

It’s easy to tell that this is a very early publicity shot from “Happy Days.” Aside from the young age of Erin Moran as Joanie, we see the Cunningham’s oldest child, Chuck. Originally portrayed by Gavan O’Herlihy, the character of Chuck was never given much to say or do and by 1975 he was unceremoniously dumped into the TV trash bin, never to be heard from again. It was like he never existed.

The other clue that this is an early publicity shot is that Fonzie is wearing a cloth jacket. ABC feared that if the character wore a leather jacket he might come across as a hoodlum. But as the show grew in popularity Fonzie wore that leather jacket and Henry Winkler became a star of the show.

Henry Winkler as the Fonz.

I previously discussed a conversation I had with Winkler in 1977, so I won’t rehash it here. But he told me that ABC Entertainment President Fred Silverman actually wanted to change the name of the show to “Fonzie’s Happy Days.”

Notice the foreshadowing in this Henry Winkler Fact Sheet. Near the bottom Winkler notes that he “can teach water-skiing.” Can you say “jump the shark?”

By the way, one of the writers of that first episode of “Happy Days” was Rob Reiner. In 1974 he was best known as an actor on “All in the Family” but at the time he was also the brother-in-law of “Happy Days” producer Garry Marshall.

MAYBE "MONEY MAIZE" WOULD’VE WORKED BETTER

23 Dec

36 years ago today, on Monday, December 23, 1974 the game show “The Money Maze” premiered on ABC’s daytime schedule. The show was hosted by Cincinnati TV host, Nick Clooney, who would go on to become even more well-known when his son, George Clooney, became a TV and movie star. 

Unused ticket for the September 21, 1974 taping of "The Money Maze."

The show, featuring a giant maze, was taped at the ABC studio on West 66th Street in Manhattan. The set was huge and had the audience sitting above the maze. I seem to remember this show as a bit confusing to watch.

While the maze made this show unique, it may also have made it too cumbersome.  “The Money Maze” ran for just six months.

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