Tag Archives: Sit-com

GOODNIGHT, SWEET PRINZE

29 Jan

NBC publicity photo of Freddie Prinze, circa 1975.

34 years ago today, on Saturday, January 29, 1977 actor, comedian Freddie Prinze died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The young star of NBC’s “Chico and the Man” was just 22 years old.

The death certificate of Freddie Prinze.

It wasn’t supposed to end this way… or this soon. Three and a half years earlier Freddie Prinze was an unknown teenager working the comedy clubs of New York City. Then came an appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” Producer James Komack was watching that night and asked Prinze to audition for a new sit-com called “Chico and the Man.”

Script for “Chico and the Man” episode that was taped on January 21, 1975. Once Prinze was cast as mechanic Chico Rodriguez he became a star – even before a single episode had been broadcast. Freddie Prinze moved to Los Angeles and, with veteran actor Jack Albertson, made “Chico and the ManNBC’s newest hit. The show premiered on Friday, September 13, 1974.

Freddie’s first L.A. apartment was in this building on N. Laurel Ave. Photo taken in 1989.

Over the next few years, as Freddie Prinze grew in popularity, he recorded a comedy album, starred in a TV movie, headlined in Las Vegas, and guest hosted “The Tonight Show.” But Prinze had a drug problem… and his marriage was on the rocks. In fact, as January 1977 rolled around Prinze was living apart from his wife at the Beverly Comstock Hotel.

Freddie’s last apartment was at the Beverly Comstock Hotel, where he shot himself. Photo taken in June 1979.

On January 20th Prinze performed at the Inaugural Gala for new President Jimmy Carter, but a week later his world came crashing down. While under the influence of narcotics and reportedly despondent, Freddie Prinze shot himself in the head on January 28, 1977 at 3:30am. He was taken to the UCLA Medical Center where he lingered for more than 33 hours.

At 1:00pm on Saturday, January 29, 1977 Freddie Prinze died from his injuries. He was 22 years old.

Freddie is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills.

Freddie Prinze’s death was ruled a suicide. Several years later his mother, Maria Pruetzel, went to court to argue that Prinze was not responsible for his actions due to the influence of narcotics. She was honest in admitting that part of her reason for doing so was that she needed the money from his life insurance policy. Prinze’s death was ruled accidental and Pruetzel was able to collect the money.

This writer paying his respects to Freddie Prinze in 1989.

From the day of Prinze’s first “Tonight Show” appearance to the day he died just 3 years and 2 months had passed. But, in that short time, the talented, lovable actor and comedian entertained us and, when he left us, millions grieved for him and pledged to remember him always. Freddie Prinze was just 22 years old.

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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.

A PRINZE FOR TONIGHT

19 Jan

35 years ago tonight, on Monday, January 19, 1976 Freddie Prinze guest hosted “The Tonight Show” for the first time. Just 2 years after first appearing on the show, Prinze was the star of NBC’s “Chico and the Man” and now, at age 21, sitting in for Johnny Carson.

Freddie Prinze with Johnny Carson on an earlier "Tonight Show" appearance, circa 1975.

After the monologue, Bob Hope made one of his patented walk-ons to congratulate Freddie on his first time hosting the show. But Freddie’s first actual guest was his dear friend Tony Orlando, who was plugging his guest spot on “Chico and the Man” which would air January 28th.

Publicity photo of Prinze in "Chico and the Man" that was sent to NBC stations.

The night’s second guest was actor Richard Dreyfuss, followed by singer Anne Murray who performed a song. Freddie’s fourth and final guest was Helen Gurley Brown, the publisher of Cosmopolitan magazine.

Freddie Prinze as Chico, in a photo taken later in 1976.

All in all, it was a successful night, especially when you consider the talented actor and comedian’s youth. Freddie Prinze would guest host “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” twice more. He might have gotten a chance to host additional times, but one year later Freddie Prinze was dead. 

Autograph signed by Freddie Prinze on September 27, 1974, after a taping of "The $25,000 Pyramid"

More on that tragic story next week.

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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