Archive for the ‘Television Producers’ Category

Happy 90th Birthday, Norman Lear!

Friday, July 27th, 2012

You may know that Norman Lear created All in the Family and The Jeffersons, but did you know that he also produced “Stand By Me” and “The Princess Bride?” Today the prolific writer/producer/director turns 90 and we take a look back at the career of the man who not only brought “Archie” and “Edith” to the small screen, but helped bring “Princess Buttercup” and “Westley” to the big screen, as well.

Born Norman Milton Lear on July 22, 1922 in New Haven, Connecticut, Lear wanted to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and become a press agent. (Lear’s uncle worked at MCA and always seemed to have a quarter to spare, even during the lean Depression years.) At the end of his senior year of high school, Lear won the American Legion Oratory Contest, earning him a scholarship to Emerson College. He left Emerson in 1942 to become a gunner in the Air Force during World War II, then fulfilled his childhood dream and worked for George and Dorothy Ross as a press agent in New York. Now married with a baby on the way, he returned to Connecticut, but soon moved to California. Leaving the life of a press agent behind, Lear performed odd jobs to make a living, including starting a business to mail celebrity addresses out by request. He and friend Ed Simmons teamed up to dabble in writing, and Lear promptly fibbed his way to the big time. He pretended to be a reporter interviewing Danny Thomas, got Thomas’ phone number, and pitched him a routine about Yiddish words that had no English counterparts. The not-Jewish Thomas wound up using the sketch at Ciro’s nightclub, giving Lear and Simmons their big break:

Agent David Susskind (who happened to be Lear’s first cousin!) then recruited the pair to write for Jack Haley’s Four Star Revue back in New York. Shortly after, in 1950, Jerry Lewis lured the duo away to write for Martin and Lewis on The Colgate Comedy Hour, where a young Bud Yorkin worked as stage manager. Martin and Lewis had recently signed movie contracts in California, so the show and its writers relocated back to the West Coast. This time Lear would stay put in sunny California.

After three years writing for Martin and Lewis, Lear and Simmons moved on to writing for The Martha Raye Show in 1954, where Lear got his first taste of directing. He split with Simmons and became a junior writer on The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show from 1957-58, where Bud Yorkin was a producer and Lear’s boss. Lear and Yorkin soon decided to form a company together, Tandem Productions. The pair complemented each other – Yorkin had more experience as a producer/director, and Lear was by then an experienced writer. They made a deal with Paramount to executive produce variety shows and specials, including The Andy Williams Show, and specials for Carol Channing, Bobby Darren, and Danny Kaye (who Lear says cooked excellent Chinese food).

Lear dabbled in films, writing the 1963 movie “Come Blow Your Horn,” and soon read an article about the British sitcom ‘Til Death Do Us Part, which featured a father-son relationship that reminded Lear of his own relationship with his father. From this premise he created All in the Family in 1968 and sold the show to ABC. He shot a pilot with Carroll O’ Connor and Jean Stapleton, but not Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers, and the show didn’t make it air. Lear then made a second pilot (also without Reiner and Struthers), which CBS picked up when Bob Wood replaced Jim Aubrey as head of the network. Just as All in the Family was starting, Lear wrote and directed the 1971 film “Cold Turkey” and was offered a three picture deal with United Artists. He turned down the deal in order to focus on All in the Family, which premiered to rather poor ratings:

CBS re-ran the series that summer and the audience grew. Then the Emmys that year did a cold open with “the four principles of All in the Family,” putting the show squarely on the map.

All in the Family showcased Lear’s talent for intertwining social consciousness with humor. In his Archive interview he explains how he can find comedy in anything:

Lear and Yorkin soon created 1972’s Sanford and Son from the British program Steptoe and Son. Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson were tapped to play the leads:

The duo produced Maude in 1972, which famously aired an episode (“Maude’s Dilemma”) in which the title character decides to have an abortion. Lear describes how the episode initially aired without significant controversy, but caused a raucous when broadcast in reruns:

Lear became master of the spin-off, creating Good Times from Maude in 1974, and The Jeffersons from All in the Family in 1975 (Maude was already an All in the Family spin-off). In 1974 he started T. A. T. Productions with Jerry Perenchio (the name comes from the Yiddish expression “Tuchus Affen Tisch,” which in Lear’s words, roughly translates to, “enough with the talk, put your ass on the table.”) Lear continued creating hit shows with 1975’s  One Day at a Time, and the critically acclaimed, but short-lived syndicated show Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman in 1976. At one point during the 1970s, Lear created/produced four of the five top shows on television. Those were the days.

He had some flops, as well. 1977’s syndicated Fernwood Tonight (aka Fernwood 2-Night) about a local talk show host, All That Glitters about male/female role reversals, and Hot L Baltimore about two prostitutes in The Hotel Baltimore, (the “E” had fallen off the sign, hence Hot L Baltimore), didn’t last beyond one season.

Lear decided to end All in the Family in 1979 (he was not involved with Archie Bunker’s Place) to dedicate more of his time to causes in which he believed – he formed the advocacy group People for the American Way in 1980. He was a member of the first group of inductees into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1984, along with honorees William Paley, Lucille Ball, Edward R. Murrow, David Sarnoff, and Milton Berle. Lear also became active in movie production, buying Embassy Studios (T. A. T. became Embassy Communications), and soon selling it to Coca Cola. Lear then formed (and currently serves as chairman of) Act III Communications, which produced 1986’s “Stand By Me,” 1987’s “The Princess Bride,” and 1991’s “Fried Green Tomatoes,” among others.

Lear remained active in television throughout the 1990s, producing Sunday Dinner in 1991, and 704 Hauser in 1994. More recently he’s produced several movies, including 2000’s “Way Past Cool,” and the 2011 short, “The Photographs of Your Junk (Will Be Publicized!).” We can’t wait to see what he’ll come up with next.

Happy 90th, Norman! Here’s to many, many more!

Watch Norman Lear’s full Archive interview.

- by Adrienne Faillace

Remembering William Asher

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

The Archive is sad to report that director/producer William Asher passed away on Monday, July 16, 2012 at the age of 90. Asher got his big break at Desilu, first directing episodes of Our Miss Brooks, and then becoming a regular director of I Love Lucy (he directed the famous “Job Switching” episode where Lucy and Ethel work in a candy factory). Asher went on to direct episodes of The Danny Thomas Show, co-created The Patty Duke Show with writer Sidney Sheldon, and created Bewitched for then-wife Elizabeth Montgomery. Asher also directed JFK’s Inaugural Ball and the President’s famous Birthday Special with guest singer Marilyn Monroe.

Here are some selections from Asher’s 2000 Archive interview:

On how directing Our Miss Brooks led to directing I Love Lucy:

I had a contract to do the first ten if Our Miss Brooks sold, and it did. And Lucy and Desi and everybody wanted me to come on and do their show. So everything happened at once. I found myself doing both shows at the same time. That was a challenge, because they overlapped during the week. I’d work the first couple of days rehearsing Our Miss Brooks and then I’d start with Lucy. I don’t remember quite how it worked, but I did those first ten shows and broke in Sheldon Leonard as the director.

On directing the “Job Switching” episode of I Love Lucy:

It was one of the most memorable of the shows, actually. It was where she and Ethel got a job, dipping candy, chocolates. The boys would take care of the house, do all the home work, and the girls would go out and make a living while Ricky and Fred made dinner and cleaned up the apartments. It didn’t work either way. We did scenes with Desi and Fred messing up the house and dinner and everything, while we were cross-cutting with Vivian and Lucy screwing up dipping the chocolate. It was quite a wild scene or scenes, I should say – both sides of it.  They came home a wreck and the guys were a wreck, then everything got back together again.

On working with William Frawley on I Love Lucy:

On directing three cameras at Desilu (the first studio to use three):

The cameras came in and they were rehearsed and they were all marked on the floor what the scene was – little tapes – and what number it was in terms of their movement. They would follow the A, B, C, whichever letter, and go from one, two, three, four, five, six – whatever the numbers were and the character. We had no trouble at all with that and it seemed to baffle people. I don’t know why, but people would come and ask, “how do you do this?” It was really very simple.

On Lucille Ball telling Desi Arnaz that she was pregnant with Desi Jr., during the taping of I Love Lucy:

When she was pregnant with Desi, little Desi, we wrote it into the story so that she was actually pregnant. One of our best shows was when she told Desi she was pregnant. She kept trying to tell him and he just didn’t hear it. She went down to the club, she sat there on the chair and he had a song he was going to sing to someone who was pregnant in the audience, and she set it up. I forget exactly how we did that, but he went around the room singing this song, “We’re Having a Baby,” and he came to her and she said “yes,” then he went on and two people later he had his double-take that she had nodded yes. He ran back to the table and he said, “really?” and she said, “yes.” And he sang to her. It was very moving. It really was.

On directing JFK’s Inaugural Ball:

It was a fabulous show. We had a cast of people that you could never, ever achieve.  Closed two Broadway shows with actors who came in to do the show. The weather was terrible. Just awful. The show went on about two hours late because people couldn’t get there. I know we picked up a couple of people who were stranded. But when everybody got there, at the armory, the show went on and it was wonderful.

On being scheduled to have dinner with Peter Lawford and Marilyn Monroe the night Monroe died:

The night that she killed herself Peter Lawford called me. We were going to have dinner with her, and Peter called me and said, “I can’t get her on the phone. I’ve been calling.” I had been down at the beach with her and Peter, and she left with her publicity girl, whose name escapes me. He said, “I can’t get her on the phone, the line’s busy. Why don’t we cancel dinner and I’ll keep trying to get her, and if I can you can come on down to the beach (where he lived).” I said, “fine,” and he called me again, then he called me again about twelve o’clock, and he said, “I’m worried about her. I think we should go over and see what’s happening at the house.” I said, “Peter, I don’t think we should do that. I think she’s probably asleep with pills and she’ll be fine.” He said, “well, I’m worried.” I said, “I tell you what you do. Call Joe Kennedy.” Joe Kennedy and I had become very friendly, and I said, “you call Joe and ask him what to do.”  He did and Joe told him, “under no circumstances go there.” There’s just nothing to be gained. It was about three or four o’clock he called me, and he said that Mrs. Murphy, her maid, had called her doctor, who came over and broke into her bedroom, and she was dead. Whether or not Peter and I going there earlier would have saved her life, I don’t know. That haunts me.

On shooting The Patty Duke Show:

United Artists had a deal with me to do a pilot, and they selected Patty… We did the pilot here and she played two characters, and playing two characters took a lot of time. We’d have to stop it and she would change and it was a hard show to do. Under the children’s labor laws of California, there was a limit of only, I don’t know, eight hours or something when she could work. When the show sold we went to New York where there were no rules. The little boy who played her brother – their family didn’t want to go to New York, so we were in New York and we recast the little brother, and he was playing “Oliver” in the show “Oliver.” He was in the show ’til midnight and on our set at eight o’clock in the morning. Nobody complained about it.  It was fine.

On creating Bewitched:

Liz and I had done a movie together, Johnny Cool, and we started going together, and we got married, and I was busy doing television and so was she. She made up her mind she didn’t want to work anymore. She insisted upon it. She had an offer of some kind and she turned it down, and she just wasn’t going to work anymore. I said, “this is not right. This isn’t fair. You’re too good. You just don’t belong retired.” We’d had a baby, and she said, “I don’t want to leave the baby, and I don’t want to be away from you. I just don’t want to work.” I suggested, “what if we do something together, how would you feel about that?” She said,”I would do that. If you can find something.” So I wrote something. I was doing a pilot with Paul Lynde, and I wrote something for us to do and submitted it to Columbia, and they liked it, but they said it’s close to something else that we have. My script was about a young girl, like a Gidget character, who was going with a boy on the beach, and there were no last names on the beach. The beach kids all had only first names. They were in love and they got married and on the night of their marriage she tells him that she’s the daughter of J. Paul Getty or the equivalent. He was furious. He said, “that’s something you tell him after you marry him? You tell before!” They had quite a scene about that. He said, “your family’ll be interfering all the time.” They had a house at the beach on stilts, and he worked at a gas station, and when the surf was up, he was out there with her. That was the basic idea… Columbia said, “we have something here that was written for Tammy Grimes and we like it and want you to read it. Well, I read it to Elizabeth and she liked it very much. The problem with it was it was dark, it was very witchy. It was boiling cauldrons and cobwebs and quite witchy. I didn’t like that. I thought she should be the girl-next-door, what she ultimately became. I went back to Columbia and I said, “let me do a rewrite on this,” and they said, “if we like it we’ll do it.” I did the rewrite. Elizabeth typed it, they liked it and we did it. It was all very quick.

On “Samantha’s” nose twitch on Bewitched:

That was something that I saw Elizabeth do. I was looking for something that was inherent in her to motivate the witchcraft, and I didn’t want to do any abracadabra stuff. She had done that, and when I first realized that would make a good motivator for the witchcraft I told her about it, and I tried to show her what it was, and she said, “I’ve never done anything like that.” I said, “you have, and I want to use it.” She said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I kept after her and as we got closer and closer to doing the show, I kept pushing on her to try and remember it. The night before we did the show she was at the bar making a drink and she spilled something or did some kind of a mistake, and she did it, and I said, “that’s it, that’s it!” She did it, “that?” I said, “that’s it. That is it.” She said, “I don’t want to do that.” I said, “yes, you do. That’s it.” That’s how it was born.

On directing 1960’s beach party films:

The idea came from American International Pictures. Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson came to me to do a beach concept, and they had a script and it wasn’t right at all. It was like all the others. It just wasn’t very good, or at least I didn’t think so. I felt that the beach pictures should be about young people having a good time, with no heavies, no parents, no last names, no sex. Just fun. When I told them that they said, “well, what would it be about?” I said, “just what I said – it would be about having a good time.” I’d have comedy heavies in it and I’d have a bike group, which would be the Von Zipper and his gang, and treat it all comically. It would just be fun. They accepted it.

On advice to an aspiring director:

Directing is an instinctive thing. It’s knowing the material, understanding it, getting that character out of the actor. There are no tricks to it. You’re in charge of everything. You’re in charge of the cameramen, the photography is in your hands, the casting, the art direction… The whole package is the director. Even though there’s a producer, it’s in the director’s hands. It’s a very taxing job. It’s hard work. It really is. You get there early, you’re the first one there, and you’ll be the last one to leave. It’s a lot of work. Very tough. I don’t know how you’d break someone in. I’ve done it, but I did it just in the way I explained it to you. You’ve got to be prepared to do that and know how to do it. A lot of people have that and a lot of people don’t.

On how he’d like to be remembered:

I think as a good director. That’s it.

Watch William Asher’s full Archive interview

Read his obituary in The Hollywood Reporter

Remembering Producer Norman Felton

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Noted producer Norman Felton died Monday, July 2nd, at the age of 99 in Woodland Hills, CA. Best known for producing the hit series Dr. Kildare and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Felton began his television career in Chicago — during the medium’s first commercial years and worked on such groundbreaking series as Garroway at Large, and These are My Children. He then went to Hollywood where he worked on Robert Montgomery Presents, Playhouse 90, and Studio One and others, before starting his own Arena Productions company. He was interviewed for 4-1/2 hours by Lee Goldberg for the Archive of American Television in 1997. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

On being executive producer of the landmark dramatic anthology series Playhouse 90 in 1959, when the sponsor censored the word “gas” in “Judgement at Nuremberg”

The producer was Martin Manulis, Herb Brodkin, a couple of others. The network [CBS] did want me to have somebody overall in charge, and so I’d make comments to the producer and I would follow through with it. On the “Judgement at Nuremberg” teleplay,  the gas company was a principle sponsor and they said they said they would pull out if we used the word “gas” on the show. Because  how you told the story of Judgment at Nuremberg and Holocaust without using the word seems– Herb Brodkin, who was the producer — ridiculous, and I felt the same way.  The network tried to get me to do something about it.  I said, “there’s nothing that can be done about it.” They said, when they got close to air time,  “we can’t give up the gas company. We promised them that we will take out the word.” It was all live. Herb Brodkin believed that we were going to do it, and I said, “Herb, I’ve got to tell you that that’s what they’re going to do  and I can’t do anything about it. If it’s going through where we are, I might be able to get to the guys who are supposed to bleep that word out, but they tricked me, II don’t know if I could have done anything and they’re sending an engineer over here with someone and if the word is used we’ll bleep it.” And that’s what happened. And he was furious.  I said, “I warned you that that was going to happen.” There was nothing that I could possibly do.  It was the worse thing for the gas company.  It got the worse publicity it could possibly have when it came out that the word was bleeped out…. We didn’t have people telling us what to do until the advertisers came along.

On the creation of television’s Dr. Kildare

I wanted to do a medical show.  I hadn’t been able to do it because at CBS they said, as the other networks did, who wants to go to a hospital?  That’s the last place –  a person comes home from their job and they’re going to turn on television and see sick people?  But in radio, I did plenty of them. I did a series of a medical nature, and I did in Chicago, while I was in radio  for the AMA. I didn’t latch onto any property. [Another company had done a failed pilot featuring Dr. Kildare.] The reason it was called Dr. Kildare was after-the-fact they turned me down.  They didn’t want to do another one. They didn’t want to do anything medical.  I said, “well, I want to do one, and I did.  It was a very successful pilot. E. Jack Neuman was a fine writer. I said I want to do a medical show, and we had two or three discussions and one, he said, “I got a good idea, this is the story. I know it has to be set in a hospital. There are two gangsters who had a fight between them, and but one is on one floor and another is another floor of the hospital and they still are enemies.” I said, “Jack, before we do anything, why don’t you take a week off, go to a hospital, go around there.  That’s what I want you to do for the next week. I don’t want to see you around here.  Don’t come on the lot.  Go to a hospital.”  So he did.  And when he came back, I never heard about those gangsters again. He said, “it’s terrific! I followed an intern and what they go through, and how they operate is just terrific with patients, and themselves and– so I said  go ahead, and write it. It was a half hour script.  Because that’s what my contract at that time, was, we expected a half hour. I went over to NBC with it and they liked it to much they said, “we’ll make you a deal.”  When the word got out that I sold this, then I think somebody in the board in New York said,” is it going to be Dr. Kildare?”  Bob [Whiteman] said, “no, it’s not like those old movies at all.  It’s the story of an intern.” And they said, “can’t he be called Dr. Kildare?” He pointed out, as did the network, that it was a valuable title to get started with, the people would opt to tune it in.  So, that’s how it got its name, is after-the-fact.

Video: On the genesis of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

On the appeal of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

In the sixties, there were a lot of  just unrest in the family. It was an escape.  It was good against evil.  And also, the thing that they liked was it was different nationalities.  At I cast two men in the leads who were short and not big husky men because, on business on Dr. Kildare, I was in London for a meeting, and when I was leaving, a lady, who was a comptroller, came to me and said, “why is it in America that you always have leading men who are big tall, sexy– so called– looking fellow, and why are they always American?”  I said, “I don’t know. I guess because that’s what people seem to like when they see them.”  But the more I thought about it, as time went on, when it came to do the Man From U.N.C.L.E, I’m not going to do it.  And that’s what made me like David McCallum and Robert Vaughn. They were slim and they were not big, as they used to say, ballsy men. That’s the expression that was used.  So it worked. I think today, some of the kids say that’s something that they really can identify more with, because they’re younger than most of the heroes were in the western shows.

SEE THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE: HTTP://EMMYTVLEGENDS.ORG/INTERVIEWS/PEOPLE/NORMAN-FELTON

Director/Producer Bob Finkel Dies at 94

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

The Archive is sad to learn of the death of Bob Finkel, who passed away of age-related complications on April 30, 2012. Finkel produced numerous hits of the 1950s and 1960s, including The Eddie Fisher Show, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, and The Andy Williams Show, along with multiple broadcasts of The People’s Choice Awards, Oscars, and Emmy Awards. He also produced Elvis: The ‘68 Comeback Special.

Here are some selections from Finkel’s 1997 Archive Interview:

On directing Natalie Wood in Pride of the Family:

There was a scene in which Natalie couldn’t go to the high school graduation, she couldn’t get a date. Paul, her father, ultimately goes with her. When she didn’t get the date she had to look at her father and cry. So we rehearsed that sequence on a couple of occasions, and never did she cry. Normally when you rehearse those things you don’t ask performers to cry, until they get ready. We now got to like the last rehearsal, and I said to Natalie, “I would like to see this scene how it plays, and I want you to cry.” And this little bitty thing looked up to me, and she said, “Mr. Finkel, when I see that camera turn over, then you’ll see my tears.” That’s the way it was. When we rolled the camera, she cried and went all over the floor.

On following key light:

I developed the idea of following the key light. I did my scenes wherever the key light was. “Is this a key light?” I would do every scene where that key light was, so that they didn’t have to re-light the sequence. I would even go very much out of order. I was saving time by following the key light. I did that.

On The Dinah Shore Show:

I must tell you that everybody on the staff had to drive Chevrolets. They gave us Chevrolets. That was the good old days, and each year we got a different one. Because if you were a member of the staff of The Dinah Shore Show, you couldn’t be seen in a Ford. So they gave us the cars; they leased them to us. The format was not unlike the formats that I used in most of these musical variety shows. It was some big production number to get started, and a welcoming from the star, and talking about her guests. Maybe in Dinah’s case, a sketch about a luau in Hawaii, because she was there the last week on a little vacation. The word that we devised for that kind of thing was “true lies.” We based those things on something that happened to her, but then we lied it up a little bit. They were “true lies.”

On the Osmond Brothers first appearance on The Andy Williams Show:

I remember vividly the night that the father of the Osmond Brothers had been pestering us to listen to their barbershop quartet winners: The Osmond Brothers. It was very hard at the end of evening, after you finished taping, to stop and go into another studio and listen to four kids sing “Danny Boy.” Finally the father got to me, and I told Andy, I said, “let’s do this guy a favor and listen to the kids,” which we did. The kids’ barbershop stuff was brilliant, and Andy was terribly impressed. We bought them that evening for, I think three performances. They just became big smash hits. They were so cute. We even had the mother and father on a couple of times. The father played saxophone; the mother sang. They were just endearing. Andy used to sit with them on the stairs in the audience and talk to them. They had these wonderful little faces and they sang so great with him, and they were big hits. Their career just accelerated, and they became big stars.

On winning an Emmy for The Perry Como Show while producing the Emmy broadcast:

I was in the truck, about a block away from the stage. I’m sitting in there, and the guy said, “the outstanding achievement goes to The Perry Como Show. Bob Finkel, producer.”  I couldn’t believe it. I ran out of the truck, and ran down the street to go into the theater. A guy that I knew said, “hi, Bob.” Passing me I said, “I can’t talk to you now, I just won an Emmy Award.” I went into the theater, went up on stage, got my Emmy, took it in my arm, and I started to come back, and the guy was still waiting for me. He said, “I thought you were lying to me. I’ll be dammed. Congratulations.” I said, “I can’t talk to you right now,” and I went back to the truck.

On his Peabody-winning Julie Andrews special:

MCA came to me and said, “you know, there’s a girl we’re bringing over from England that’s been a big hit, by the name of Julie Andrews. We want to do a special with her.” I said, “well I don’t want to do a special with her right away.” I said, “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll put her on The Andy Williams Show as a guest and let’s see what happens.” Of course she was just as adorable as she always is. She was wonderful. She then went to New York and did “My Fair Lady.” Then we were going to do a special with Julie Andrews, because she proved that she could handle a special. I got a hold of Alan Handley, another legendary name in television. Alan was a producer-director for NBC, and together we designed a show for her. We got Gene Kelly to be on the show.

On Elvis: The ‘68 Comeback Special:

Colonel Parker, Elvis’ manager and mentor, wanted to do a special in order to hype Elvis’ record sales. I was introduced to Elvis at Paramount, and to the Colonel, and we had a great many meetings before it was decided among all of us that I was the guy and that Elvis would do the show. Colonel Parker wanted a concert show, and I didn’t want to do that. I did what now is called The Comeback Special. In order to execute the ideas that I had, which was more or less what I had been doing in musical variety, with the exception there was less talk – there were production numbers and audience participation that Elvis did in that arena situation – in order to accomplish that I hired Steve Binder, who was another up-and-coming creative director, and I gave him producing and directing credit. We formed what became The Elvis Presley Special … Elvis was truly professional. Very, very nice man. Very respectful of a director, respectful of a producer. Expressed his opinion. He never hid his feelings about things, but listened. He was a pleasure to work with.  It was a wonderful, marvelous experience, and we knew that we had a great show. It wasn’t very long into the rehearsal that we knew we had something.

On his friend, Bing Crosby:

Bing was colorblind, but really colorblind. There are different stages of colorblindness. He said to me one time, “do you want to go to the track?” Now most guys when they go to the track they have their driver, they have a car. Bing’s got this old Toyota. Just him in the car and me. We’re driving along, and we come to the stop light. And I said, “Bing, how do you know when to stop?” He said, “Bob, it’s simple. When the top is on that means it’s green, when the bottom is on – no, wait a minute. When the bottom is on… no, when the top, now the middle one…”  I said, “let me out of the car, Bing. If you don’t know which one it is, I don’t want to be driving with you.”  He would get on the stage with a blue sock and a white sock.

Watch Bob Finkel’s Full Archive interview.

Writer/Producer William Froug Turns 90!

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

Happy 90th birthday, William Froug! Froug started out as a radio writer at CBS, transitioned to television, and wound up producing some of the medium’s biggest hits. He served as a producer on The Twilight Zone, Bewitched, and Gilligan’s Island, among others. When he left production, Froug began teaching screenwriting at UCLA and authored several books on the subject, including The Screenwriter Looks at the Screenwriter and Screen-writing Tricks of the Trade.

Here are some selections from his 2011 Archive interview:

On the secret to writing for radio:

What’s the secret? I think the secret is just keep making it up as you go along. I really do. It’s one sentence at a time. I never had an outline for anything I ever did. Ever. Just start writing. If you can entertain yourself, there’s a chance you can entertain somebody else. That was my philosophy. I kept myself amused and I’m a short attention span guy. But each sentence would surprise me. I never knew what was going to happen next, and that kept me going. If I’d had an outline I would have dropped it long ago.

On working with Rod Serling as a producer on The Twilight Zone:

On why The Twilight Zone has continued to be a popular series after all these years:

I think Rod Serling. He wrote great scripts. That’s why. Stories were great. By and large they are great.

On being the Executive Producer in Charge of Drama at CBS:

It really meant I read all the scripts for dramatic series – met with the producers of dramatic series. Let them know I was going to be reading their material and make suggestions from time to time. I was greeted like cancer, you know. The blank stares “You think you’re going to tell us how to produce our series?” I’d been a line producer. I knew that wasn’t going to happen. But that was the job. So I read their scripts. Never said a word.  Never met with them. That was my job.

On why he began teaching screenwriting at UCLA:

It’s in my blood. I can’t explain that. Like what made me have to be a writer? I just knew I wanted to be a teacher. I just knew I had to do it and I love it. When I first started at CBS in radio, in the very beginning, I started a course one night a week in radio writing at CBS in one of their offices. Had about three or four people show up. But I had this urge to teach. It’s just in me. There’s no “what led me to it” anymore than what led me to be a writer.

On producing Bewitched:

I didn’t have anything to do because Bill Asher actually produced it and directed it and correctly took the credit and was married to the star. There was no role for me there, really. He just wanted somebody to be the titular producer, who he could then blame for anything that went wrong. He wasn’t interested in me as a producer. He was looking for a fall guy, basically. Because when he had battles with his wife, he didn’t have anybody to blame. Now he could blame me. That’s all right.

On his philosophy on screenwriting:

Basically, find a clear line. The key is to find a line. The storyline is king.  And Page 1, Line 1 is when the story must start. You pick up the script. Page 1, Line 1, the reader has got to know what kind of story he’s getting and what kind of genre to expect. Is it going to be a mystery? Is it going to be a comedy? What’s it going to be? I called it the opening signal: Page 1, Line 1. Then you’ve got to grab the audience within the first five pages, preferably the first two. That’s very important.

Happy 90th birthday, William! Here’s to many, many more!

Watch Froug’s two-hour Archive interview here.

Producer Lee Rich Dies at 85

Friday, May 25th, 2012

The Archive is sad to report the passing of Lee Rich, best known as one of the founders of Lorimar Productions. Rich served as executive producer on The Waltons, Eight is Enough, Dallas, and Knots Landing. Earlier in his career, he worked for advertising company Benton & Bowles, where he helped package The Danny Thomas Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show. He left advertising to form Mirisch-Rich Productions, where he produced Rat Patrol and Hey, Landlord; briefly returned to advertising at the Leo Burnett Agency; and then formed Lorimar where he remained until 1986, when he became Chairman of MGM/UVA.

Here are some selections from Rich’s 1999 Archive interview:

On packaging shows at Benton & Bowles:

We had to explain to clients what television was all about. We had to explain to them what would happen to their sales, and it wasn’t as easy as everybody thought. It was fine to say, “hey I’ve got a great show,” but if it doesn’t do well, forget it. The Dick Van Dyke Show was that far from being canceled… We would try to get clients into television spots before we got them into programming. Because then we could prove to them that their market share was going up. And then it was like a child growing up. Everybody had to learn; everybody had to make mistakes. Everybody was extremely competitive. But the end result was an advertiser had to feel comfortable and his sales had to be up.

On the relationship between Benton & Bowles and the networks:

Well in those days we were the largest place; we placed the greatest amount of television of any advertising agency in the country and had tremendous clout over the network. Really tremendous clout. Our clout came from obtaining time periods that were advantageous to us. For example, on Monday night from eight-thirty to ten o’clock was all General Foods: Danny Thomas, Andy Griffith, and Gomer Pyle, they were all General Food shows. Then Procter and Gamble had time periods of their own, on NBC and on ABC. But that was where the strength came in, that was the clout that we had in placing the television shows.

On how The Dick Van Dyke Show was brought to Benton & Bowles:

Carl Reiner did a pilot, which he starred in it and it was basically The Dick Van Dyke Show. He then brought that pilot to us and we all recognized that the idea was a great idea, but Carl was not right for it. We talked to Carl and Carl recognized that he wasn’t the star for it, but he did write it. We talked about doing it and finding somebody else to play the lead, and we talked about a lot of people, and we finally came down to Dick Van Dyke. They flew into New York, met me, we watched Dick Van Dyke in “Bye, Bye Birdie,” and we then met with him after the theater, and that was it. We hired Dick Van Dyke.

On the origin of Dallas:

On the storylines on Knots Landing:

In many ways Knots was, except for Larry Hagman, Knots was a better show than Dallas. More real story lines, and we had female villains. We had Donna Mills. I remember when we cast her, I said to her, “you want to be a villain?” And she said, “Great!”

On his proudest achievements:

Watch Lee Rich’s full Archive Interview here, and read his obituary in Deadline here.

Game Show Creator Bob Stewart Dies at 91

Friday, May 4th, 2012

The Archive is sad to report the death of game show creator/producer Bob Stewart, who passed away at the age of 91. Stewart began his association with producers Mark Goodson and Bill Todman (Goodson-Todman) in 1955 and created fan favorites Pyramid, The Price is Right, To Tell the Truth, and Password.

Here are some selections from Stewart’s three-hour Archive interview from 1998:

On the genesis of The Price is Right:

On Fiftieth Street and Seventh Avenue in New York there used to be a store which auctioned silverware, glassware, watches, jewelry … and everyday during the lunch hour that place was packed. People would just walk in and bid for the goods. I used to stop by there and watch the stuff and I thought to myself, ‘anybody who pays a nickel more than the retail price has been taken, but anybody who gets it for even a nickel less has got a bargain.’ And that became the core of The Price Is Right.

On how celebrity panelists were selected for To Tell The Truth:

In its original form, we had different visions of making this cross examination more than just entertainment. So as a consequence, we had a couple of reporters whose names escape me right now but they were literally reporters that people knew about. One guy was sort of an entertainment writer for one of the big New York newspapers. We also brought in people like Ralph Bellamy because he was doing Man Against Crime, a fictional detective, but at least he was cross-examining … We ended up with people like Orson Bean and Kitty Carlisle and the classic panelists Peggy Cass, who were there to have some fun and make a good time of it.

On how the Quiz Show Scandals changed game shows:

They brought in what they called Standards and Practices. The first guys hired back in 1958 or ’59, whenever it was, they brought in some ex-FBI men … an FBI guy came in and he oversaw the shows to make sure that nothing crooked was going on. The new thing that was innovated was that all contestants and all producers had to sign certain waivers of sorts saying you wouldn’t cheat and so on. There was that. The physical setup between contestants and production help had to be completely separate. We now had to have contestants briefed in another building at one time, couldn’t be in the same building. And in the studio, the quarters were set up so that there could be no contact except for the person who was the contestant getter, nobody else could be near a contestant.

On creating Password:

On creating Pyramid:

That had a strange development. Originally, we had a pilot that we made for CBS and it was called On The Line. There was a pyramid shape with a series of lines across the pyramid. I think there were ten lines. The bottom row had ten squares, then nine, eight, seven, six, on up to one. It was a different kind of game but we played a game with it. We made the pilot and it was just a so-so pilot. Fred Silverman, who has been said ’shoots from the hip,’ looked at it, didn’t care for it, and said, ‘we’ll do something else.’ I was trying to take advantage of the fact that they needed a show and I brought in some run-through of another show which he liked, and we were working on that in different run-throughs and then one day I got an idea of how to convert that pyramid of ten into another kind of show of quick communication. Although we were scheduled to run-through this new idea I showed Silverman this new version of the old pilot. ‘I kind of like it,’ he said, ‘but I don’t like the front game, the end game is okay.’ So I change that — the network guys do this, they don’t know what they’re looking for and they don’t recognize it so they’re not sure, so they keep sending you back to do it again, again, and again. Finally, one day I show him these two pieces together. Matter of fact, Bill Cullen was helping me demonstrate it, he was one of the players. The next thing I knew I walked into Bud Grant’s office. Bud was the head of daytime television, Silverman was the head of nighttime. I was hanging around CBS to find out whether we’re going to make the schedule and then I noticed in Bud Grant’s office where they have this board of shows, it said ‘Ten Thousand Dollar Pyramid.’ I said, ‘what the hell is that?’ He says, ‘you’re on the air.’

On how game show production changed since he began his career:

Since I haven’t been in it for a few years, I don’t know exactly, but I’ll tell you how part of it changed. The part that’s changed is … I’ll use the word respect. There was a certain respect that the network people or syndicators had for the producers of game shows. In other words, they dealt with them on a rather, even equal keel and said, ‘you have something that has some value, let’s talk about it.’ What I hear today is that when you go to a network or to a cable operation or to a syndicator, they couldn’t care less about the idea of the show. ‘You do business our way or we don’t do business.’ There are stories of syndicators and especially cable operators who say, ‘okay, we’ll take this show we own, we’ll give you some money.’ It’s all gone. Where’s the entrepreneur? What‘s the point in trying to be creative if it doesn’t belong to you? So the business part has changed a lot.

Watch Bob Stewart’s Full Archive Interview.

Garry Marshall Inducted into NAB Hall of Fame

Monday, April 16th, 2012

This afternoon show creator/producer Garry Marshall will be inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters’ Broadcasting Hall of Fame during the 2012 NAB Show in Las Vegas. Marshall created some of TV’s most entertaining programs: Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy … and honed his skills as a writer earlier in his career on The Joey Bishop Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Lucy Show. Marshall was inducted into 13th Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2004.

In the clip below, Marshall and the Happy Days cast recall the controversy over The Fonz’s now-iconic leather jacket:

Congratulations, Garry!!

Watch Garry Marshall’s full Archive interview.

Chuck Lorre: From Songwriter to Showrunner

Monday, March 5th, 2012

You probably know that Chuck Lorre is the co-creator of Two and a Half Men, Mike and Molly, and The Big Bang Theory.  You may not know that he also wrote the Debbie Harry song, “French Kissin’ in the U.S.A.” and co-wrote the theme song to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He is a man of many talents.

Lorre got his start in television with DIC Animation and Marvel, working on shows like Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats and Muppet Babies, and soon segued into sitcoms, writing for Charles in Charge, My Two Dads and Roseanne. He also co-created Dharma & Greg and Grace Under Fire. In his 2012 Archive interview, Lorre reflects on his career and offers some advice to aspiring writers:

Lorre was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame at the March 1st ceremony at the Beverly Hills Hotel, joining performers Vivian Vance and Bill Frawley, executive Michael Eisner, executive producers Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray, host Mario Kreutzberger (aka Don Francisco), and lighting director Bill Klages as the newest inductees. Watch Chuck Lorre’s full three-hour Archive interview here.

2012 Television Academy Hall of Fame

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Two and a Half Men star and Emmy winner Jon Cryer will host tonight’s 21st Annual Television Hall of Fame Gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Performers Vivian Vance and Bill Frawley, executive Michael Eisner, show creator-producer Chuck Lorre, executive producers Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray, host Mario Kreutzberger (aka Don Francisco), and lighting director Bill Klages will become the newest inductees into the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame.

Presenters at tonight’s ceremony include: Gail Berman presenting to Mary-Ellis Bunim & Jonathan Murray, Garry Marshall presenting to Michael Eisner, Sofia Vergara presenting to Mario Kreutzberger, Walter Miller presenting to Bill Klages, Peter Roth presenting to Chuck Lorre, Doris Singleton presenting to Vivian Vance, and Barry & Stan Livingston presenting to William Frawley. Mary-Ellis Bunim, Vivian Vance and William Frawley will be inducted posthumously.

The Archive of American Television has conducted interviews with several of the new honorees, and with many of their colleagues. Below enjoy selections from Archive interviews with or touting this year’s Hall of Fame inductees:

Congratulations to all of the honorees!

More from our Featured Story on the 21st Annual Hall of Fame Inductees.