Friday, July 27, 2018

Encore podcast: The Jack Benny-Johnny Carson Connection


In 1949, Jack Benny took advantage of new capital gains laws and moved his popular program from NBC to CBS, an immense boost to that network in ratings and prestige. At about the same time, a senior at the University of Nebraska named Johnny Carson was putting together his thesis, “How to Write Comedy for Radio,” a tape-recorded presentation filled with examples of Jack Benny’s work. Carson couldn’t have known it at the time, but within a few years Benny would become one of Carson’s biggest boosters – they formed a kind of mutual admiration society that would last until Benny’s death in 1974. Benny had been one of America’s dominant comedy voices during the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s – and by utilizing tricks he’d learned from Benny, Carson, as host of “The Tonight Show” for thirty years, would become one of America’s dominant comedy voices during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
Sources:
Johnny Carson, by Henry Bushkin
“Red Skelton Butts Scenery, Sprains Neck,” Rome (GA) News-Tribune, August 18, 1954
“Comics’ Comics,” TV Guide, January 15, 1955
“Johnny Carson: Young Man with a Grin,” TV Guide, September 3, 1955
“Johnny Carson Defined Late-Night TV,”  Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2005

Friday, July 20, 2018

A Very Short History of TV Shows with Very Short Histories



What can you say about a TV show that dies after just one episode? We can think of a few things. Here’s a look at some of the most notorious examples, including a show that forced Jackie Gleason to apologize to America, a “Laugh-In” ripoff that was cancelled midway through its only episode and a sitcom about the home life of the Hitlers. Here are their stories — their pathetic stories of massive, embarrassing failure.
Sources:
The Worst TV Shows Ever, by Bart Andrews
” ‘Co-Ed Fever’ Expires,” The Bonham (TX) Daily Favorite, February 11, 1979
“Steve’s Reason Why Not,” Lisa de Moraes, The Washington Post, January 22, 2006

Friday, July 13, 2018

Encore podcast: "The Rise and Fall of 'Dragnet'



In the summer of 1949, “Dragnet” premiered on NBC radio. It was a show that sounded like no other thanks to creator-star Jack Webb’s obsession with authenticity. “Dragnet” then moved to TV and ran for most of the 1950s. Its theme song and opening disclaimer — “The story you are about to see is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent” — became part of pop culture history. During the turbulent late 1960s, “Dragnet” was revived, and it hadn’t changed — but the world had, and authority was something to be questioned rather than celebrated. We look at the influence of “Dragnet” and Webb’s evolution into an outspoken advocate of police officers.
Sources:
“Jack Webb, TV’s Most Misunderstood Man,” TV Guide, March 23, 1957
“Jack Webb Returns to the Good Old Days,” Richard Warren Lewis, TV Guide, October 19, 1968

Friday, July 6, 2018

The 1960s: What We Listened To



New podcast alert: David and his brother Steve and reminisce about the music we grew up listening to, from Duke Ellington to Sarah Vaughn to the Monkees to Allen Sherman's 1963 megahit "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah." With special appearances by Jackson Browne, Louis Armstrong and the Guess Who. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

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 

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