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

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