Friday, February 15, 2019

Silverman's Travels



If you were watching American network TV in the 1970s and early 1980s, what you were watching had probably been touched by Fred Silverman. Over a 20-year period, Silverman had an unprecedented run as chief programmer of all three networks -- CBS, ABC and NBC. His successful programming choices led to his reputation as "the man with the golden gut," but his downfall came when he had to program against his strongest adversary -- himself.

Sources:

"The Crapshoot for Half a Billion," Tommy Thompson, Life, September 10, 1971

"TV's Man for All Networks," Lawrence Van Gelder, The New York Times, January 21, 1978

"NBC's Super Freddie Misses the Train," Jack Egan, New York, May 14, 1979

"A Troubled Season for NBC Chief Fred Silverman," Arthur Unger, The Christian Science Monitor, December 17, 1980

"Fred Silverman," Rip Rense, emmys.com

"The Fall and Rise of Fred Silverman," Geraldine Fabrikant, The New York Times, June 5, 1989

Saturday, February 2, 2019

What We Laughed At

My brother Steve and I sit down and talk about the comedians we enjoyed as kids, mostly on "The Ed Sullivan Show," like Jackie Vernon, Myron Cohen and Henny Youngman. We also talk about discovering "new" comics like Richard Pryor and George Carlin and more contemporary comics such as Brian Regan and Mike Birbiglia.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Sid Caesar and His Demons

Sid Caesar is one of the comic giants of 1950s TV, but he was also plagued by anxiety, depression, guilt and an explosive temper. In the early 1980s he came to my hometown of Louisville to perform at a dinner theatre, and I reviewed the show. I didn't know it then, but he was in the midst of a battle to escape his addiction to booze and pills and conquer his deep-seated demons. 

Friday, December 21, 2018

Encore Podcast: Big Stars + Small Screen = Tiny Audiences

The big TV story in the fall of 1971 was that movie stars were coming to the tube, including James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Shirley MacLaine, Glenn Ford, Anthony Quinn, Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis, among others. Many of them turned to TV because movie roles were growing scarce, and for lucrative paychecks. But the vehicles they chose were garden variety TV — family sitcoms and cop shows — and viewers tuned out. We look at the highest-profile failures — “The Jimmy Stewart Show,” Shirley MacLaine’s “Shirley’s World” and Henry Fonda’s “The Smith Family.”


Friday, December 14, 2018

The Miracle of "A Charlie Brown Christmas"

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" wasn't intentionally created to be timeless, but because of its simplicity and sincerity, timeless it is. Miraculously, it avoids every cliche associated with children's animation and is a perfect blending of music, words and images that clearly conveys one man's vision and philosophy -- Charles Schulz, who drew "Peanuts" from 1950 until his death in 2000.

Sources:

Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography, by David Michaelis

A Charlie Brown Religion: Exploring the Spiritual Life and Work of Charles Schulz, by Stephen J. Lind

"How 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' Almost Wasn't," Jennings Brown, ny.com, November 16, 2016

"The 'Charlie Brown Christmas' Special Was the Flop That Wasn't," Carrie Hagen, smithsonian.com, December 9, 2015

Friday, December 7, 2018

Sonny and Cher's Long, Strange TV Trip



The career odyssey of Sonny and Cher began in a recording studio, led to an abortive attempt at movies and finally to TV, where their comedy-variety show was one of the most popular of the 1970s. At the same time, it shaped Cher as a showbiz and fashion icon and led to the breakup of their marriage in front of all America, and then their reconciliation -- on the tube, at least.


Sources:

Television Variety Shows, by David Inman

"The Beat Goes On ... Again," Dick Adler, TV Guide, March 18, 1972

"The Party's Over: Sonny and Cher's Last Show Was Taped in an Atmosphere of Desperate Optimism," Rowland Barber, TV Guide, June 1, 1974

"Cher ... Without Sonny," Rowland Barber, TV Guide, April 12, 1975

"The Life and Loves of Sonny and Cher," Rowland Barber, TV Guide, June 5, 1976

Friday, November 30, 2018

Encore podcast: "The Hopalong Cassidy Magical Marketing Machine"


In 1948, William Boyd made a large bet on television, and on demographics. He had an idea that the first wave of the baby boomers — kids born to newly affluent parents — would be a large and untapped audience for the 66 “Hopalong Cassidy” movie westerns he’d starred in, so he bought the rights and sold them to TV stations that were starved for programming. He also made deals with dozens of consumer goods companies to market authorized Hopalong Cassidy merchandise, from wallpaper to cookies to roller skates with spurs on them. America’s kids snapped them up, and Boyd made millions.
Sources:
“Hopalong Hits the Jackpot,” Oliver Jensen, Life, June 12, 1950
“Wild-West Fever: Will It Sell for You?,” Sponsor, September 11, 1950
“Maxwell House Coffee Time with George Burns and Gracie Allen: George the Cowboy,” May 5, 1949