Friday, June 8, 2018

The Unsinkable Betty White


At age 96, Betty Marion White Ludden has had the longest television career in history. She made her TV debut in 1939 and in the late 1940s she co-hosted a local Los Angeles series that ran five hours each day. When the Emmy Awards added the "Best Actress" category in 1951, she was one of the nominees, and exactly sixty years later, in 2011, she was a nominee once again. In between she's won eight Emmy awards, three American Comedy Awards, three Screen Actors Guild awards, a Grammy Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She's the oldest person ever to host "Saturday Night Live" and in two years she will begin her tenth decade in show business. She is, in short, unsinkable.

Sources:

Here We Go Again: My Life in Television, 1949-1995, by Betty White

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Stormy Success of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour"



In early 1967, folksinging comedians Tom and Dick Smothers kicked off their own variety show on CBS. Their competition was stiff -- NBC's "Bonanza," the one show that CBS could never seem to dislodge from its top-10 spot in the ratings. But the brothers beat "Bonanza" with a combination of topical comedy and musical guests like the Turtles, Buffalo Springfield and the Who. The only problem was that the show's anti-war humor and social satire often ran afoul of CBS censors -- and even prompted protests from the White House, leading to a series of conflicts between the Smothers Brothers and Big Brother.

Sources:

Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," by David Bianculli

"Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of 'The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour' "

"The Smothers Brothers Redux: A Bittersweet Reunion at CBS," Andy Meisler, The New York Times, January 31, 1988

Friday, May 11, 2018

Liz and Dick and Lucy and the Ring



In 1969, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were arguably the world's most famous married couple, and they became even more well known when Burton bought his wife a 69-carat diamond ring that cost over a million dollars. At a Hollywood party, their paths crossed with Lucille Ball and an unlikely idea emerged -- within weeks the Burtons were taping an episode of "Here's Lucy" as themselves, with the ring as a special guest star. This is the story of a very large diamond, two very popular movie stars and one of America's favorite comic actresses -- and how they all came together to make TV history.

Sources:

" 'All I Could See Was Elizabeth and That Rock': What Happened When Taylor and Burton Were Filmed for Next Week's Lucy Show," James Bacon, TV Guide, September 5, 1970

"The Taylor Burton Diamond," worthy.com

Loving Lucy: An Illustrated Tribute to Lucille Ball, by Bart Andrews

Elizabeth Taylor: A Private Life for Public Consumption, by Ellis Cashmore

The Richard Burton Diaries, edited by Chris Williams 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Fade to Blacklist: Part 2



In our last episode, we looked at the East Coast blacklist triggered by "Red Channels" -- which listed the "Communistic activities" of supposed radicals -- and the lives that were ruined by it. In this episode we look at the pushback -- the positive results of people standing up to a small number of self-appointed vigilantes, and what happened when networks and sponsors stood strong against threats to shows such as "I've Got a Secret" and "I Love Lucy." We also look at one man who finally had enough and took the blacklist creators and enforcers to court.

Sources:

Fear on Trial, by John Henry Faulk

Desilu: The Story of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, by Coyne Steven Sanders

Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball, by Stefan Kanfer

The Image Empire: A History of Broadcasting in the United States, Volume III, by Erik Barnouw

Friday, April 13, 2018

Fade to Blacklist: Part 1

In the summer of 1950, a booklet called "Red Channels" shook up the East Coast media structure -- radio and TV networks as well as advertising agencies. "Red Channels" listed the "subversive" activities of over 150 writers, directors and performers, from Orson Welles to Lena Horne. If you were named in the book, you were guilty until proven innocent and you ran the serious risk of being unemployable on radio or TV. The blacklist triggered by "Red Channels" lasted for much of the 1950s, seriously affecting and even ruining the lives of innocent people. In the first of two parts, we look at how the blacklist began and how it was abetted by cowardly TV and radio producers and advertisers.

Sources:

A History of Broadcasting in the United States: 2. The Golden Web, 1933-1953, by Erik Barnouw

The Image Empire: A History of Broadcasting in the United States, Volume III, by Erik Barnouw

"15 Entertainers Who Were Labeled Communist in the Red Channels List," Eliza Berman, time.com, June 22, 2015

"Gypsy, Scott and Wicker in Red Denials," Billboard, September 23, 1950

"Blacklist Still Snarls AM-TV," Variety, September 13, 1950

"Ireene Wicker Hammer Dies, 86; Storyteller to Millions of Children," Nan Robertson, The New York Times, November 18, 1987

Red Scare: Memories of the American Inquisition, by Griffin Fariello

Unfriendly Witnesses: Gender, Theatre and Film in the McCarthy Era, by Milly S. Barranger

With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture Since 1830, by LeRoy Ashby

Invasion of the Mind Snatchers: Television's Conquest of America in the Fifties, by Eric Burns

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Rise and Fall of "Moonlighting"



When the Directors Guild of America announced its award nominations in 1986, history was made. For the very first time, one TV show was nominated for best direction in a comedy and best direction in a drama -- "Moonlighting." The combination detective series-screwball comedy thrived on romantic tension for three seasons in the mid-1980s -- until the lead characters finally got together and the show's creators weren't quite sure what to do next.

Sources:

"Cybill Shepherd's Comeback: Duelling for Dollars," Bill Davidson, TV Guide, December 7, 1985

"Behind the Turmoil on 'Moonlighting': Cybill Won't Be Tamed," Michael Leahy, TV Guide, May 30, 1987

"The Madcap Behind 'Moonlighting,' " Joy Horowitz, The New York Times Magazine, March 30, 1986

" 'Moonlighting' Makes Light of 15 Emmy Losses: Mom Goes to Her Reward But TV Show Didn't," Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1986

"Writer of 'Moonlighting' Cast in a Different Glow," Steve Daley, The Chicago Tribune, March 11, 1986
 

"Glenn Gordon Caron Discusses Working with Cybill Shepherd on 'Moonlighting,' " emmytvlegends.org

"Glenn Gordon Caron Discusses the Tone of 'Moonlighting,' " emmytvlegends.org

Friday, March 16, 2018

The 1960s: How We Played


David Inman and his brother Steve take another trip down memory lane to recall the toys they played with as kids, from G.I. Joes fully equipped for nuclear war to electric football games, which were basically vibrating pieces of sheet metal. There are also special guest appearances by Hot Wheels, Mr. Kelly's Car Wash, Major Matt Mason and Zero M spy toys.