Tag Archives: Sit-com

FAREWELL DON KIRSHNER

18 Jan

Rock impresario Don Kirshner died of heart failure yesterday, January 17, in Boca Raton, Florida. He was 76.

Although many will think of Kirshner as strictly a music legend, some forget that his reach extended to television. His best-known series was “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” which ran in syndication from 1973 to 1981 and featured performances by some of rock & roll’s top acts. Kirshner’s wooden and nasally on-camera introductions were almost as entertaining as the bands. But did you know that Kirshner was also involved with the NBC series “The Monkees”?

“The Monkees” which ran from 1966-1968 on NBC.

He served as the original Music Supervisor for “The Monkees” and was responsible for several of their early hit records. But as the show grew in popularity the four actors who played the fake band pushed for songs that were more to their own liking. Eventually Kirshner stepped aside.

Another series that Kirshner produced, with Norman Lear, was the 1977 CBS sitcom “A Year at the Top” which starred Paul Shaffer (yes, THAT Paul Shaffer) and Greg Evigan. They played a music duo who sells their souls to the son of the devil (Gabriel Dell) in exchange for “a year at the top” of the charts. The show ran for 5 weeks, but both Shaffer and Evigan would find better partners to work with. Shaffer as musical director for David Letterman since 1982, and Evigan as the straight man to a chimp named Bear on NBC’s “B.J. and the Bear” from 1979 to 1981.

Don Kirshner was a New York City native born in the Bronx on April 17, 1934.

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.

< ONE DAY AT A TIME

16 Dec

35 years ago tonight, on Tuesday, December 16, 1975 “One Day at a Time,” the newest sit-com from Norman Lear, premiered on CBS. The show starred Bonnie Franklin as newly divorced Mom, Ann Romano, and Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli as her teenage daughters Julie and Barbara. Richard Masur played Ann’s boyfriend David and the building super, Schneider, was played by the show’s best-known cast member Pat Harrington Jr.

Original cast of "One Day at a Time" - 1975

 The next morning I sent a letter to the show hoping to get Norman Lear’s attention by writing the show’s first fan letter. I had previously read how Lear was touched by a letter from an early viewer of “All in the Family.” However, there was really nothing about “One Day at a Time” that even remotely reflected my life or experiences.

Form letter from Norman Lear, dated January 8, 1976.

 Norman Lear did send a letter though. It was a form letter thanking me for my interest in “One Day at a Time.” But at 15 years old, getting any letter from the most prolific comedy producer of the 1970s felt great.

One Day at a Time” ran for nine seasons on CBS. It is one of the first, and perhaps only shows I can recall that was set in Indianapolis.  It was never a blockbuster hit, but Schneider became an iconic character of the 70s, and the show did introduce us to Valerie Bertinelli.

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