Tag Archives: CBS

THE BIRTH OF THE BUNKERS

12 Jan

41 years ago tonight, on Tuesday, January 12, 1971 TV changed forever when “All in the Family” premiered on CBS.

Oh it was different. It was a sitcom that starred an unlikeable character. Well… he was likeable… but it was hidden underneath all that bigotry. He loved his wife. He loved his daughter. We figured out eventually that he even loved Meathead. But Archie Bunker was one of a kind (in TV land). The world was full of real “Archie Bunkers.”

And that’s one way “All in the Family” made its mark. It made “Archie Bunker” a common phrase that meant bigot… more specifically a “lovable” bigot. There’s one in almost every family. It also brought several other words into the American lexicon: Dingbat, Meathead, stifle. It even gave us the first toilet flush in sitcom history.

What many people didn’t realize at first is that “All in the Family” wasn’t saluting bigots, it wasn’t praising them. It was holding them up to ridicule.

Publicity still sent to fans in 1975

I remember a wonderful story the show’s producer Norman Lear wrote about on the “All in the Family” album cover. It was about the first fan letter he received for the show. It was from a single mother who said she watched the first episode with her adult child. She wrote that, after the episode, she turned to her child and said – You always wanted to know what your father was like. Now you know!

All in the Family” was that rare breed of show that combined great writing, great casting, great acting – you name it. When I watch it today I am blown away by the talent of Carroll O’Connor. The way he made Archie Bunker a believable, 3-dimensional character is astounding. The man had skills! Chops.

Let’s not forget Jean Stapleton as Edith Bunker. Until I saw her on a talk show several years later I thought the actress spoke in the same strident voice as Edith. Sally Struthers as Gloria and Rob Reiner as Mike/Meathead rounded out the fine cast.

Brilliant TV.

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SAJAK… PAT SAJAK

26 Oct

65 years ago, on Saturday, October 26, 1946 game show host Pat Sajak was born.

Billboard in Los Angeles promoting "The Pat Sjak Show."

Although he is best known as the host of “Wheel of Fortune” I can also verify that Sajak was a talk show host for a short time. In fact, I sat in the audience of CBS‘s “The Pat Sajak Show” one night. (That’s how I can verify it.)

Ticket for "The Pat Sjak Show" -- a late night talk show on CBS.

Happy Birthday Pat! (Send Vanna my love).

[How smart are you? Pat Sajak was not the FIRST host of “Wheel of Fortune.” Who was?]

DO YOU LOVE LUCY?

6 Aug

100 years ago today, on Sunday, August 6, 1911 one of TV’s most gifted comic actresses was born in Jamestown, New York; Lucille Ball.

Although Lucille Ball would find success as a model and then as an actress on film, stage and radio, it was her work in TV that made her an American treasure and icon.

She turned to TV when CBS asked her to develop her radio hit “My Favorite Husband” for the new medium. She agreed with one stipulation; that her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, star alongside her. But CBS executives didn’t think America would accept Ball with a Cuban husband, so Lucy & Desi toured the country with a vaudeville act. The success of that tour led to CBS picking up “I Love Lucy.”

Your blogger, sitting in for Fred Mertz, during the “I Love Lucy” 50th Anniversary Tour in 2001.

America had a love affair with “I Love Lucy” and the sitcom ran for seven seasons and 180 episodes. After some changes the show became “The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour” and ran for 3 more seasons.

Lucy & Desi divorced in 1960 and Lucille Ball returned to sitcoms with “The Lucy Show” in 1962. Vivian Vance returned as Lucy’s “partner in crime” and veteran actor Gale Gordon became the male foil for Lucy’s wacky hijinks. It ran on CBS for six seasons (1962-1968) before giving way to “Here’s Lucy” which also co-starred Gale Gordon and Ball’s children Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr.Here’s Lucy” also ran on CBS for six seasons (1968-1974).

In 1986, at the age of 75, Lucille Ball was lured back to TV for an ABC sitcom called “Life with Lucy.” Unfortunately, even with former co-star Gale Gordon in the cast, the old magic wasn’t there and only eight episodes were broadcast. “Life with Lucy” was Lucille Ball’s only failure on TV but it’s not how she’ll be remembered.

Lucille Ball was a comedic genius who we welcomed her into our homes from 1951 to 1974 (except for two years off). There have been other talented and exceptional comedic actresses on TV but Lucille Ball stands alone as the first and arguably the best.

She also became the first woman to run a Hollywood studio when she bought Desi’s share of Desilu following their divorce.

Today she is also remembered by The Lucy-Desi Center in her hometown of Jamestown, New York which manages two facilities: The Lucy-Desi Museum and The Desilu Playhouse. The center’s premiere event is The Lucille Ball Festival of Comedy, held each August. This year, in honor of Lucy’s 100th birthday, there were performances by Joan Rivers and Paula Poundstone. Lucy Fest continues through Sunday (August 7th).

Lucille Ball died in April 1989 at the age of 77, but she left her mark on several generations, who will always love Lucy.

Happy 100th birthday Lucy.

RED

18 Jul

‎98 years ago today, on Friday, July 18, 1913 comic actor Red Skelton was born in Indiana.

Red Skelton's star for TV on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

And since my parents’ first date was to a Red Skelton movie (circa 1944), I may owe my life to him.

Red Skelton, with his one-time writer Johnny Carson.

“Goodnight and may God bless.”

SIGNED, EPSTEIN’S MOTHER

7 May

60 years ago, on Monday, May 7, 1951, actor Robert Hegyes was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey… and like another 1970s sitcom actor, Hegyes is half-Hungarian. Freddie Prinze called himself a Hunga-Rican. Perhaps we can call Robert Hegyes a Hungi-Talian.

After graduating from Glassboro State College with a degree in theater Robert Hegyes joined up with several acting troupes in New York City. Just a few years later he was cast as Juan Epstein in “Welcome Back, Kotter.”

Robert Hegyes 8x10 sent in response to a fan letter in the 1970s.

Juan Epstein, of course, was one of the “sweathogs” (remedial high school students) on the sitcom, who were taught by Mr. Kotter, himself a former “sweathog.” During the time “Welcome Back, Kotter” was a hit show, I was attending a real high school in Brooklyn. Believe me, “Welcome Back, Kotter” was the talk of the school the day after every episode.

When I wrote to Robert Hegyes at the time I was surprised to get the letter, shown below, in return. Most often I would receive a form letter. This one actually appears to be typed and looks less than perfect. For that reason I have always believed that this was a personal response, actually signed by Hegyes. That’s what makes it an even more appreciated and cherished part of my collection.

Letter from Robert Hegyes written on “Welcome Back, Kotter” stationery.

Welcome Back, Kotter” premiered in September 1975 on ABC and ran for 4 seasons. Hegyes also directed a few episodes. After “Kotter” he appeared in episodes of shows such as, “Diagnosis Murder,” “The Drew Carey Show,” and “NewsRadio.” In the 1980s he had a recurring role as Detective Manny Esposito in the police drama, “Cagney & Lacey”.

Just last month Robert Hegyes joined most of his “Welcome Back, Kotter” colleagues for a reunion at the TV Land Awards.

Happy 60th Birthday Bobby, I wish you all the best. Thanks for making going to high school in Brooklyn in the 70s kinda cool!

…THIS TIME TOGETHER

26 Apr
78 years ago, on Wednesday, April 26, 1933, Carol Burnett was born in San Antonio, Texas. As the child of two alcoholics, Burnett was raised by her grandmother who moved them to Hollywood.
 
When she would tug on her ear at the end of “The Carol Burnett Show” it was her way of saying hello to that beloved grandmother.

Pseudo-autographed 8x10 photo sent to fans of “The Carol Burnett Show"

Carol Burnett herself has won three Emmys. “The Carol Burnett Show” also won three Emmys for Outstanding Comedy, Variety or Music Series.

In 1985 Burnett was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame, and in November 2005 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. Carol Burnett also received a Peabody Award in 1962.

Recently she has been touring the country with her “Laughter and Reflection” stage show, which is similar to the opening of her old TV show. Burnett simply answers questions from the audience and talks about her life.

While I titled this post “…THIS TIME TOGETHER” I was obviously playing off Carol Burnett’s famous closing song from her show. What I did not know is that Ms. Burnett has an autobiography, also entitled This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection (now out in paperback). Great minds think alike.

Happy 78th Birthday Carol (as I tug on my ear).

BLACK GOLD, TEXAS TEA

2 Apr

33 years ago tonight, on Sunday, April 2, 1978, the prime-time soap opera “Dallas” premiered on CBS. And just like the daytime soaps, this one had love, hate, greed, and sex. Lots of sex.

The real Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas, 1994.

TV viewers got a spring preview of “Dallas” when it first hit the airwaves at the end of the 1977-78 season. And while it attracted an audience its ratings didn’t crack the Top 30 until the 1979-80 season when it was the 6th highest rated show. The following two seasons it was TV’s number 1 show. All told it was in the Top 2 for five straight seasons and stayed in the Top 30 through the 1988-89 season. It was quite a ride.

The "Ewing Mansion" at the real Southfork Ranch, 1994.

Dallas” told the story of the wealthy Ewing family: Texas oil tycoons with huge appetites for money, power, and trouble. The Patriarch was Jock Ewing played by Jim Davis. His wife, Miss Ellie was portrayed by Barbara Bel Geddes. The couple had three adult sons, but the series focused on just two of them: the oldest and the youngest.

Sign posted at the real Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas, 1994.

J.R. Ewing (the oldest son) was evil incarnate. As played by Larry Hagman, J.R. became one of TV’s greatest villains ever. Patrick Duffy, on the other hand, had the role of youngest son Bobby, the nice guy. But he was the nice guy who married the daughter of his father’s former business partner and rival. Bobby’s wife Pamela Barnes Ewing was portrayed by Victoria Principal, while Linda Gray appeared as J.R.’s wife Sue Ellen Ewing.

This writer (on left) with “Pal Joey” at the real Southfork Ranch, 1994.

Although old-time movie serials were known for their cliffhangers, “Dallas” has been credited with bringing the cliffhanger to TV. In the last episode of the 1979-80 season J.R. Ewing was shot, leaving viewers to wait until the fall to find out his fate and the identity of the gunman. Because of a strike by the Screen Actors Guild that wait lasted from March until November. But in that time the phrase, “Who shot J.R.?” was on the lips of millions of Americans. So who did shoot J.R.? I’m not telling.

This writer’s friend, “Pal Joey,” relaxing in the garden at the real Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas, 1994.

The photos accompanying this post were taken at the actual Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas, just northeast of Dallas. While the series itself was shot at studios in California, exterior scenes were filmed here. By 1985, as visitors continued to flock to the ranch, the owners moved out and Southfork became strictly a tourist attraction. Today it’s open daily for guided tours of the ranch and the “Ewing Mansion.”

Dallas” ran for 13 seasons, until May 1991, and left an indelible mark on the TV landscape.

“Pal Joey” enjoying the view J.R. would have enjoyed, at the real Southfork Ranch, 1994.

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