Tag Archives: NBC

OH CARSON, MY CARSON

23 Oct

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

86 years ago today, on Friday, October 23, 1925, a woman named Ruth Carson gave birth to a son in Corning, Iowa… but Johnny was on vacation, so Ruth gave birth to Joey Bishop!

I couldn’t resist. That joke has been around for decades.

The house in Corning, Iowa where Johnny Carson was born on October 23, 1925.

But truly, the “King of Late Night,” was born on this date in this house, in 1925. John William Carson was born to Homer and Ruth Carson, and he would go on to leave a gigantic imprint on the world of television.

Although born in Corning Johnny didn’t stay there long. Due to Homer’s job with a utility company the Carson family moved quite a bit. After relocating to several western Iowa towns, the Carsons eventually settled in Norfolk, Nebraska. It was in this classic version of small-town America that Johnny began performing. And it was in this home that Johnny grew up.

The house in Norfolk, Nebraska where Johnny Carson grew up.

After learning magic young Johnny appeared around town as The Great Carsoni and built the foundation for his career.

Johnny Carson clowns around with his mentor and boss, Red Skelton.

Years later, his first big break came as a writer for Red Skelton. When Skelton got hurt during a rehearsal Carson went on in his place. CBS executives took note and soon Carson was host of “The Johnny Carson Show.”

By the late 1950s Johnny was based in New York and hosting a game show. The show was originally called “Do You Trust Your Wife?” but later became “Who Do You Trust?

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

As you all know, Johnny Carson went on to host “The Tonight Show” from 1962 to 1992. In his almost 30 years at the helm Carson turned “The Tonight Show” into an institution. It became a nightly “must-see” for many and Johnny Carson himself became a barometer of public opinion.

Offices for "The Tonight Show" at NBC Burbank, 1979.

Carson left “The Tonight Show” in 1992 and pretty much retired from public life. He died on January 23, 2005 after a long battle with emphysema.

Johnny Carson became one of television’s biggest stars ever, but he never forgot his hometown of Norfolk, Nebraska. Carson donated nearly $5-million to various causes in Norfolk and the people there returned his love. So if you stop in at the Elkhorn Valley Museum in Norfolk, be sure to see the Johnny Carson Gallery there.

Entrance to the Johnny Carson Gallery.

Johnny Carson was born 86 years ago on this date in TV history.

 

Photos from Corning, Iowa and Norfolk, Nebraska ©Richard DiGangi

FROM WACO TO WACKO

14 Aug

66 years ago today, on Tuesday, August 14, 1945 actor/writer/producer/comedian Steve Martin was born in Waco, Texas.

Steve Martin autograph signed on October 23, 1976

He began performing while still in his teens and by the time he was 22 he was writing comedy for network TV shows. Between 1967 and 1973 Steve Martin worked as a writer on half a dozen comedy variety series including “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” “The Summer Brothers Smothers Show,” “Pat Paulsen’s Half a Comedy Hour,” “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” “The Ken Berry ‘Wow’ Show,” and “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.” He was also a featured performer on several of those shows, as well as on “The Ray Stevens Show” in the summer of 1970.

I still remember the first time I saw Steve Martin on TV. It was on NBC on a Saturday night at 11:30pm, but I wasn’t watching “Saturday Night Live.” In fact, that show hadn’t even been created yet. I was watching the program that “SNL” replaced: reruns of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

It was that first appearance on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” in 1973 that brought Martin some national attention. His first appearance as host of “Saturday Night Live” in 1976 sealed the deal and made him a comedy “rock star.” I was in the audience for that show. In fact, I got his autograph earlier that day, on the back of my admission slip for the PSAT exam.

What's on the other side of Steve Martin's autograph? The date on my admission slip for the PSAT exam, which was administered that morning.

So, while many people were introduced to Steve Martin on October 23, 1976, I was already a fan.

But in addition to lots of laughs, I also remember a very touching moment provided by Steve Martin on the day Gilda Radner died (May 20, 1989). Martin was hosting “Saturday Night Live” that night and I was in the audience. When he introduced a clip of he and Gilda dancing in an old sketch it was quite moving. Martin, and most of the audience, seemed to be holding in some emotions.

Although Martin has never starred in his own series his career is a product of TV. From his roots as a writer… to his TV specials and guest appearances… to his hosting the Academy Awards broadcast… Steve Martin is a TV star.

He has now hosted “Saturday Night Live” a record 15 times (tied with Alec Baldwin) and prior to abandoning standup he starred in four network comedy specials for NBC: “Steve Martin: A Wild and Crazy Guy” in 1978, “Steve Martin: Comedy Is Not Pretty” and “All Commercials–A Steve Martin Special” both in 1980, and 1981’s “Steve Martin’s Best Show Ever.”

Happy Birthday to Steve Martin, the TV star (and movie star, playwright, musician, novelist, and art collector). Thanks for everything.

ON SECOND THOUGHT…

6 May

25 years ago on Tuesday, May 6, 1986, the Fox Broadcasting Corporation announced that comedienne Joan Rivers would host a late night talk show on the new network: “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers.”

Flanked by FOX Chairman Barry Diller and FOX President Jamie Kellner, Rivers was introduced as the first “face” of FOX. But she had not yet broken the news to her current employer… and the fallout from that move is legendary.

First, a little background: Before Jay Leno became host of “The Tonight Show” (the first time) he had been Johnny Carson’s permanent guest host on the show. But before Johnny had Jay, Johnny had Joan. Joan Rivers was the first permanent guest host in the history of Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” Prior to that, dozens of stars had filled in for the “King of Late Night” over the years – some more often than others (Joey Bishop and David Brenner to name two).

When Carson heard the news that Joan Rivers was leaving to compete against him, it seems he took it personally. He apparently felt Rivers should have told him before the announcement was made. When Joan called Johnny afterwards, she claims he refused to take the call. The two never spoke again. So… did they live happily ever after? Not exactly.

Surviving souvenir from “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers”

The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers” premiered on FOX, Monday October 9, 1986 at 11:00pm, but as every competitor to Johnny Carson had learned, it wasn’t easy to beat the king. The ratings for “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers” were never big and Joan Rivers only hosted the show for seven months. Her last “Late Show” was May 15, 1987.

But much worse than the losing “The Late Show” was the loss of Rivers’ husband. Edgar Rosenberg had been an executive producer of “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers.” Three months after Joan was fired by FOX Rosenberg committed suicide. He had been suffering from clinical depression.

Joan went on to have a syndicated daytime talk show, “The Joan Rivers Show”… then hosted numerous red-carpet shows with her daughter Melissa Rivers for E! and the TV Guide Channel.

Currently she hosts “Fashion Police” on E!…  and can be seen selling her line of clothing, jewelry and accessories on QVC.

TV viewers may also have recently watched mother and daughter in season one of their new reality show, “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?” on WE tv.

Joan Rivers has also added several notable catchphrases to the American lexicon: “Can we talk?” (which I’m told is a Federal trademark) and her red-carpet question, “Who are you wearing?” which is now said by just about every red-carpet host everywhere.

But on this date, 25 years ago, Joan Rivers was introduced as the FOX network’s first big star. Only she knows if she would do it all again if given the chance.

QUINCY MADISON

27 Apr

89 years ago, on Thursday, April 27, 1922, Jacob “Jack” Klugman was born in Philadelphia. Although best known to TV audiences as Oscar Madison, the sloppy half of “The Odd Couple,” his other well-known series “Quincy, M.E.” actually ran for more seasons (7 to 5) and produced more episodes (148 to 114).

Klugman began to act after serving in World War II. His early TV appearances include multiple episodes of famed series like “Inner Sanctum,” “Studio One,” and “Playhouse 90.” Jack Klugman was a working actor, but when he was cast in the TV version of “The Odd Couple” he became a star. While the show achieved some popularity during its run on ABC (1970-1975), it was in syndication that the show really caught fire.

Postcard sent to fans of ABC’s “The Odd Couple” in the 1970s.

In 1993 I interviewed Klugman and Tony Randall in Central Park while they were filming scenes for “The Odd Couple: Together Again” reunion movie. It was about three years after Klugman had surgery for throat cancer, and it left him with a slight and raspy voice. But I was a bit surprised when Klugman was actually apologetic for his inability to answer in full voice. He seemed to be a genuinely nice man.

Reverse side of the same postcard with “autographs” from the stars.

Of course, “The Odd Couple” was followed by “Quincy, M.E.” on NBC in which Klugman played Dr. R. Quincy, a medical examiner (or coroner) who had no first name. In the 1980s Klugman went back to sitcoms with NBC‘s “You Again?” co-starring John Stamos. It lasted just one season.

Happy 89th Birthday Jack. You’re an American treasure.

OH MY

20 Apr

74 years ago, on Tuesday, April 20, 1937 actor George Takei was born in Los Angeles. Although best known for his role as Mr. Sulu in “Star Trek,” Takei has hundreds of television appearances to his credit, starting with a live episode of “Playhouse 90” in 1959.

In his 2007 autobiography, To the Stars, Takei says he and his family were among more than 100,000 other Japanese-Americans who were sent to internment camps during World War II. Takei lived in Camp Rohwer in Arkansas and Camp Tule Lake in northern California.

After the war, the Takeis returned to southern California, where George would eventually earn a masters degree in theater from U.C.L.A. in 1964.

Takei’s life would change forever when he was cast as Mr. Sulu in 1965 for the second “Star Trek” pilot.

George Takei autograph signed in NYC, 1973.

The above autograph was signed by George Takei during the 1973 Star Trek Convention at New York’s Commodore Hotel. I was 12 years old. What I remember most about our encounter is how George kept repeating to us all, “It’s pronounced ‘tuh-KAY’ as in O.K.” Throughout the past 38 years I have occasionally heard people refer to him as George “tuh-KIE” – and I don’t know if he ever used this pronunciation. But to the best of my knowledge, from George’s own mouth, “It’s pronounced ‘tuh-KAY’ as in O.K.

While some will only remember him as Sulu, George Takei’s acting career has lasted more than 50 years. Recently  he had a recurring role on NBC‘s “Heroes” from 2007 to 2010, and this year he joined the cast of Nickelodeon‘s new series “Supah Ninjas” as Hologramps, the holographic grandfather.

Takei may be the only TV actor (certainly one of the few) with an asteroid named in his honor. In October 2007 the International Astronomical Union‘s Committee on Small Body Nomenclature approved the official, scientific name of 7307 Takei for the asteroid, which is located between Mars and Jupiter.

According to Takei’s own website, he and his husband Brad Altman made television history when they became the first gay couple to appear on “The Newlywed Game” on GSN cable network in October 2009. They won the game and donated their $10,000 prize to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

Happy birthday George… now warp speed to 75!

RADIO GENIUS, TV COMEDIAN

26 Mar

88 years ago, on Monday, March 26, 1923, actor/comedian Bob Elliott was born in Boston. Though he is best-known for his work in radio, Elliott (with comedy partner Ray Goulding) starred in several TV specials and series.

Bob Elliott & Ray Goulding in the studios of WOR (AM), December 1974.

In 1946 Ray Goulding was hired to read the news for a morning show Bob Elliott was hosting on WHDH in Boston. That fateful pairing would result in a 15 minute radio show called “Matinee with Bob and Ray” and eventually their partnership as the comedy team of Bob & Ray.

Their television careers began on Monday November 26, 1951 when “Bob & Ray” (or “The Bob and Ray Show”) premiered on NBC.  Joining them in sketches and spoofs in this 15 minute program was Audrey Meadows. She was replaced by Cloris Leachman, who was then replaced by Audrey Meadows. The show lasted two years.

I had the pleasure of meeting Bob & Ray on three separate occasions, which are detailed in my previous post. Each time they were gracious and generous.

Bob & Ray in their WOR radio studio, December 1974, joined by students Sami Kenigsberg, Paul Messina, and Jerry Seigerman.

In addition to “The Bob and Ray Show,” the duo briefly hosted a TV game show and made many TV guest appearances. One highlight was the 1979 late night special, “Bob & Ray, Jane, Laraine & Gilda” with Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, and Gilda Radner, which I attended.

Bob Elliott has also spread his comedic genes to future generations. His son is actor/comedian Chris Elliott and his granddaughter is “Saturday Night Live” cast member Abby Elliott.

In fact, for two seasons (1990-1992) Bob Elliott portrayed the father of his real-life son Chris in the FOX sitcom “Get a Life.”

Autographs in the book: “To Paul – Cheers! Bob Elliott” and “To Paul, All the Best, Ray Goulding”

Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding were inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1984. “The Bob and Ray Show” was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995.

While Ray Goulding died of kidney failure in 1990, at the age of 68, Bob Elliott is alive and well and living on Long Island. Today we salute Bob wish him a Happy Birthday.

You can send a birthday greeting to Bob Elliott at: bob@bobandray.com 

…or send him a note at: P.O. Box 53, Planetarium Station, New York, NY 10024-0053. I’m told Bob usually answers his mail.

Happy Birthday Bob… and thank you.

THE SILENCE IS DEAFENING

20 Mar

89 years ago, on Monday, March 20, 1922, actor/comedian Ray Goulding was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. Though he is best-known for his work in radio, Goulding (with comedy partner Bob Elliott) starred in several TV specials and series.

Ray Goulding in the studios of WOR (AM) in December 1974.

Ray Goulding started his career as an announcer on WLLH radio in Lowell around 1939, and then moved to WEEI in Boston just a year later. After serving in World War II, Goulding was hired to read the news for a morning show hosted by Bob Elliott on WHDH in Boston. That fateful pairing would result in a 15 minute radio show called “Matinee with Bob and Ray” and eventually their partnership as the comedy team of Bob & Ray.

Bob Elliott & Ray Goulding in the studios of WOR (AM), December 1974.

Their television careers began on Monday November 26, 1951 when “Bob & Ray” (or “The Bob and Ray Show”) premiered on NBC.  Joining them in sketches and spoofs in this 15 minute program was Audrey Meadows. She was replaced by Cloris Leachman, who was then replaced by Audrey Meadows. The show lasted two years.

I had the pleasure of meeting Bob & Ray on three separate occasions.

The first time was in December 1974 in the studios of WOR radio. The comedy legends were nice enough to agree to be interviewed by 3 junior high school students. I was one of them. If you look closely we’re wearing “Wally Ballou for Mayor” buttons given to us that day by Bob & Ray.

Bob & Ray in their WOR radio studio, December 1974, joined by students Sami Kenigsberg, Paul Messina, and Jerry Seigerman.

The second time we met was in 1979. The photos we took in 1974 gained us access to Bob & Ray’s dressing room after their masterful performance in the NBC late night comedy special “Bob & Ray, Jane, Laraine & Gilda.” That’s when Bob & Ray were kind enough to autograph these photos.

From Approximately Coast to Coast… It’s The Bob and Ray Show published by Atheneum in 1983.

The third, and last, time I met Bob & Ray was in 1983 when they came up to WPIX-TV to be interviewed about their newest book; From Approximately Coast to Coast… It’s The Bob and Ray Show. I was working at the station at the time and made sure I bought a copy of their book beforehand so I could get another set of autographs. (And yes, I showed them the photos from 1974 to let them know we’d met before).

Autographs in the book: “To Paul – Cheers! Bob Elliott” and “To Paul, All the Best, Ray Goulding”

Rarely does one find geniuses to be so gracious and courteous.

Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding were inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1984. “The Bob and Ray Show” was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995.

Ray Goulding died of kidney failure in 1990. He was 68. Bob Elliott is alive and well and living on Long Island. He will turn 88 next week. But today we honor Ray Goulding for bringing laughter to my world and the world of television.

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