Archive for the ‘Television Writers’ Category

Get ready for Emmy!

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

The 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards will be given out September 10 and 18, 2011 in Los Angeles.

The Archive of American Television congratulates all of this year’s nominees! Below are some excerpts from the Archive’s nominated interviewees:

Dan Castellaneta, Nominated for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance (As “Homer Simpson” on The Simpsons)

David Crane, Nominated for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series (Episodes)

Louis J. Horvitz, Nominated for Outstanding Directing for a a Variety, Music, or Comedy Special (53rd Grammy Awards)

Susan Lacy , Nominated for Outstanding Nonfiction Series (Exec. Producer for American Masters)

Christopher Lloyd, Nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series (co-creator of Modern Family)

Matthew Weiner , Nominated for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series and Outstanding Drama Series (creator/writer of Mad Men)

Betty White, Nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (as “Elka Ostrosky” on Hot in Cleveland)

Other interviewees nominated for an Emmy this year:
Robert Dickinson for Outstanding Lighting Design/ Lighting Direction (Conan, 83rd Academy Awards, 53rd Grammy Awards)
Linda Ellerbee for Outstanding Children’s Nonfiction (Exec. Producer for Nick News with Linda Ellerbee: Under the Influence: Kids of Alcoholics)
Michael J. Fox for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series (“Louis Cannin” on The Good Wife)
Cloris Leachman for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (as “Maw Maw” on Raising Hope)
Hector Ramirez for Outstanding Technical Director, Camerawork (American Idol, 83rd Academy Awards, The Kennedy Center Honors)
Don Mischer for Outstanding Directing for a a Variety, Music, or Comedy Special (83rd Academy Awards)
Sheila Nevins for Outstanding Children’s Program (Exec. producer for A Child’s Garden of Poetry)
Paul Shaffer for Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special (2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductions Ceremony)
Tim Van Patten for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series (Game of Thrones)

The full list of nominees can be found here.

The Creative Arts Emmy Awardss will be held on September 10. The Primetime Emmys Telecast will be broadcast live on September 18 on FOX. Check our 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards page for updates and winners!

Norman Lear on comedy

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

“Life is a serious matter, but I see it through a prism that finds comedy in anything.”- Norman Lear

A very happy birthday today to TV writer, producer, and legend Norman Lear, who is 89!

In this excerpt from his 1998 Archive interview, Lear addressed the question of how he uses humor to diffuse a serious situation or an emotional issue, without becoming dogmatic:

See the full interview with Norman Lear here.

About the interview:
Regarding his contribution to television, Norman Lear notes: “Flying across country [one] night I remember looking down and thinking, hey, it’s just possible, wherever I see a light, I’ve helped to make somebody laugh.” Norman Lear’s writing career began in the 1950s, and reached its zenith with a series of socially conscious sitcoms, the crown jewel of which was the highly rated, multi-Emmy Award-winning All in the Family. In his Archive interview, Lear speaks about his early work in publicity and his move to Los Angeles, where he teamed up with comedy writer Ed Simmons. He recounts how he broke into the business by finagling Danny Thomas’s phone number from his office and pitching a comedy routine idea to him personally. He enumerates his continued television writing jobs for such stars as Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis on television’s The Colgate Comedy Hour.He fondly recalls writing for The Martha Raye Show, which he also directed, and describes how the show ran afoul with its ad agency and was cancelled. He outlines the creation of his own production company, with producing partner Bud Yorkin, and his work on The Andy Williams Specials and The George Gobel Show. For All in the Family, he discusses the creation of the show (based on a British series but inspired by his own family) the struggles to get it picked up by a network, and the show’s impact. On his collaboration with Carroll O’Connor on the iconic Archie Bunker he candidly comments: “When Carroll O’Connor realized he had to embrace the script, not without some of the changes he suggested, but without the wholesale changes he would insist upon; that when he finally accepted it and slipped into the character, none of us could write Archie Bunker the way it flew out of him— realized he had to embrace the script, not without some of the changes he suggested, but without the wholesale changes he would insist upon; that when he finally accepted it and slipped into the character, none of us could write Archie Bunker the way it flew out of him— in his understanding of the character, and the idiom, the language, the malapropos. It was worth all of the aggravation to get to that moment, I’d wait for that moment with awe.” He outlines the conception and casting of the numerous successful series he subsequently launched, including: Sanford and Son; Maude; Good Times; The Jeffersons; One Day at a Time; Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; and Fernwood 2-Night. Lastly, he comments on series he refers to as the “misses and near misses.” Norman Lear was interviewed in Brentwood, CA on February 26, 1998; Morrie Gelman conducted the five-hour interview.

“Gilligan’s Island” and “Brady Bunch” Creator Sherwood Schwartz dies at 94

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Sad news: Legendary comedy writer/producer Sherwood Schwartz, best known for creating and producing Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch has died in Los Angeles at the age of 94.

Schwartz began his career as a radio writer for Bob Hope in the 1940s, and soon transitioned to television as a writer for I Married Joan (where he worked with Jim Backus, who he would later cast as Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island), The Red Skelton Show (where he had a volatile relationship with Skelton), My Favorite Martian, and other early comedy series. In 1967, he created the first of his signature series Gilligan’s Island, and in 1969 premiered The Brady Bunch. The two series spawned a array of TV movies, animated series, and in the case of The Brady Bunch, two reunion series. He also created Dusty’s Trail and developed Harper Valley PTA for television. Schwartz was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2008.

In 1997, he graciously gave the Archive of American Television a wonderful “five hour tour” of his life and career. At the interview’s conclusion, when asked how he’d like to be remembered, he replied:

“As a man who tried to explain in his own way that people have to learn to get along with each other. I did it with comedy because that’s what I’m familiar with, and I think it’s more acceptable to tell it in comedy form. But that’s how I’d like to be remembered.”

Here are some video excerpts from the interview:

On working with Bob Hope early in his career

On working as script supervisor on My Favorite Martian

On the concept of Gilligan’s Island

On casting The Brady Bunch

On the impact of Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch

See his full Archive of American Television interview here.

TV Comedy Writing Legend Sam Denoff has Died

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Very sad news, the Archive of American Television has learned that TV Legend Sam Denoff, not only an Archive interviewee, but someone who passionately supported the Archive as an interviewer, passed away on July 8th at the age of 83.

Sam began his prolific career in radio at WNEW in New York and later moved to Los Angeles to work in television, starting with The Steve Allen Show. He worked on The Andy Williams Show before landing a job with partner Bill Persky on The Dick Van Dyke Show, where he and Persky co-wrote such classic episodes as “Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth” and “That’s My Boy!” He and Persky then co-created and co-produced That Girl, starring Marlo Thomas, as well as the short-lived series Good Morning World. Other series he created include The Funny Side, Big Eddie, On Our Own, Turnabout, and The Lucie Arnaz Show. Denoff also wrote for such specials as: The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special (1967), The Bill Cosby Special (1968), Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman Mary Tyler Moore (1969) and Hallmark Hall of Fame: “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” with Orson Welles (1972). He also wrote for The Annual American Comedy Awards and working as a consultant for the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. Along with being an Archive of American Television interviewee, Sam contributed his time as an Archive interviewer — he conducted historic interviews with TV Legends Sheldon Leonard, Art Linkletter, Jerry Lewis, Hal Kanter, and Charles Cappleman.

Here are some excerpts from his March 9, 2000 Archive interview:

On being hired to write for The Steve Allen Show in 1961

We [Denoff and Bill Persky] were going to be the last two hired on the writing staff — the two of us and another new writer called Buck Henry. Did they love our material? We found out they never read the material. What happened was there was a meeting and names were being thrown out. Our name came up and Bill Dana said, “Sam Denoff, I know Sam, he and I were pages together, he’s really funny. He’s good.” Steve said, “book him.” That was Steve Allen, we’re talking about generous, nurturing people. Steve Allen is one of those giants. He has started off the careers of so many people, performers and writers, Billy and me among them. But his attitude was if somebody said, hey, “I know this guy, he’s a good singer,” Steve said, “put him on the show. What could it hurt, if they’re no good, they’re no good.” So we got the job. It was a three-week contract… They liked what we were doing. I brought my family out, which was good, but it was bad because the show was canceled after fourteen shows. But, one thing leads to another, if you just go ahead and do your work. I think it’s important to say that our ambitions were not to be producers. We wanted to be, get a job as a writer and work as writers. And especially for variety shows, because we knew we had a good sense of satire and doing satirical sketches.

On writing the classic The Dick Van Dyke Show episode “That’s My Boy”

“That’s My Boy” was our first episode, and certainly it was exciting. It evolved to being a momentous moment in the show’s history. It was the opening show of the third season and the story was that Dick was obsessed with the idea that their son Richie was the baby of another couple whose wife was in the hospital at the same time giving birth. And all the evidence that he could dig up, it was very funny being this precise, almost an Inspector Clouseau character — he says, their name was Peters, ours Petrie, very close names, and you were in room 387, and she was in room 378…. At one point, he was even going to footprint the baby, when Laura caught him. Of course, he had to keep all of his suspicions to himself, which is a great comedy device. He didn’t want to upset his wife. Anyway, he finally calls the Peters family, and says, “my name is Petrie and you guys had a baby the same day as my wife, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, and I think we have to deal with this fact that we may have the wrong babies.” He tells Laura and of course, she says, oh that’s ridiculous! He says, no, sweetheart, I’m sure…the doorbell rings and in walks Greg Morris and his wife, the black actor, Greg Morris, who became famous on Mission Impossible. When he walked in that door, the audience exploded and they didn’t stop laughing. I think Sheldon [Leonard] and Carl [Reiner] have said that’s the longest single laugh ever on that series. But the joke was not on the black couple, the joke was on Dick Van Dyke, the schmuck. As Dick Van Dyke used to say, schmuckery is the best thing you can do. Have a guy who thinks he’s something else and he’s being a schmuck. Well, that stunning laugh, and then with Greg Morris and his wife characters just standing there laughing at him, because they came knowing what this guy would react to. It was one of the biggest surprises, which is one of the essences of a good comedy show. There was no hint. And, it was one of the first examples of using a multicultural storyline without being condescending or getting into trouble.

(l-r): Sam Denoff, Dick Van Dyke (in-costume), Bill Persky on the set of The Dick Van Dyke Show

On the legacy of The Dick Van Dyke Show

I think The Dick Van Dyke Show deserves the attention that it gets today because it was done so well. And again, that’s not because of us. It’s because of Carl’s [Reiner] vision and because of what, it absolutely deserves all the attention it gets. It’s one of the milestones of great television. Certainly a lot of great, wonderful shows have followed it. But I know a lot of the men and women who have written on those shows when they were trying to break in, like Billy [Persky] and me, and even the younger guys say that was like a landmark. A landmark piece of perfect kind of work. Absolutely.

On reuniting Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore in the special Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman

Mary’s career, after The Dick Van Dyke Show, had kind of a valley…. We thought it would be fun to do a special reuniting the two of them, which was called Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman because people thought they were really married, that’s how believable they were. The special material was written by our friend, Ray Charles, and in it he wrote one number which, which was magical, “Life is Just a Situation Comedy,” and they did a song and dance, little sketches in that. In the other memorable piece we had Dick and Mary as the two little bride and groom statues on the top of a wedding cake, waiting, at, at a wedding, but they talked to each other. And he doesn’t want to be there and she wants to be there, and she says, this is the most romantic thing…. And then, the wedding is over and they’re stuck in the freezer and we see them later taken out for the 25th anniversary of the couple and they’re all full of ice in the freezer. And the culmination of the number was really so sweet. They sang the great number from Fiddler on the Roof, “Do You Love Me.” It was a terrific special. Mary, quite often, has credited that special with rejuvenating her career, which it did, because CBS said, “oh, wait a minute, why don’t we do a series with this girl, because she really is good.” They’d forgotten about her. And then Allan [Burns] and Jim [Brooks] wrote The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which was great.

On working with longtime writing partner Bill Persky

Working with a partner, as Billy and I did for 20 years, we brought different sensibilities to the comedy writing. We both had tremendous respect for each other’s ability. He was into much more warmth than I was. A lot of partnerships are that way. But what evolved from our differences was a great dynamic which was that we would work together on every scene, we didn’t take separate stuff. When you work with a partner, you trigger each other. Very often people would say, who wrote that? And we said, the third person. A third writer evolves from the two different writers.

Writing comedy is a lonely job if you’re by yourself. That’s why there are so many partnerships, because you can bounce off each other. The writing process is so difficult that when you can do that and one guy’s personality is this one and one is that one, and you can reap from both of those two different personalities. I don’t want to go into details of what’s that different, because, because it cost everybody too much money in psychiatrist’s office to get through that, but, it worked very well. I mean, the main reason that the partnership broke up was because Billy really wanted to be a director, which he became. A very successful comedy director.

On co-creating That Girl

While in the last year of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Danny Thomas, knowing it was the last year, would come into our office repeatedly, say, “hey, why don’t you write a show for my kid?” We said,” Marlo? She’s terrific. Is she funny?” He said, “she’s my kid, she’s got to be funny.” We hemmed and hawed because we were doing a pilot for another series at the same time called Good Morning World, about our experiences at the radio station WNEW. Finally, Danny said, “look, you’ve got to see her, she’s in London now working in ‘Barefoot in the Park’. They gave her great reviews and they didn’t even know who I am. I’ll buy you a ticket and hotel.” So, Billy and I fly off to London and we go to see her in the play and she was terrific. We came back and we started to talk about a pilot. She was known in her family as “Miss Independent”. She always had that very air of independence about her. However, and I don’t know whether it’s true, but when she was an out-of-work actress in New York she lived at The Plaza, so I don’t know how independent…. the idea about being a single girl on her own in New York evolved from all of those discussions about this independence. They wanted to call it Miss Independence at one time. We didn’t like that, it sounds like a musical.

So Billy and I wrote the pilot of her leaving her family who lived in Westchester and going down to live in New York. Discussion started about, okay, she’ll be a single girl. But then we said because of our training from Carl Reiner, she’s got to have a boyfriend. Why? Well, because we don’t want her to be single and what guy is she not going to sleep with this week — especially in those days in 1966. She agreed. We wrote the script and hired Ted Bessell. The original pilot was recast. Some of the actors didn’t test well, that nonsense. We didn’t know at the time, we’re credited in books and articles by the feminist movement as being on the forefront of the feminist movement. No, we were trying to do a show for Danny Thomas’ daughter. We had no agenda. Maybe Marlo did at the time. She professes now that she did. I don’t know whether she had the agenda as this woman’s statement. She wanted a show.

On his work for the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon

A fun job, as well as an often heartbreaking job is, is working as a consultant on the Jerry Lewis Telethon. Jerry is an old friend, I met him when I was at WNEW. He came in to town and William B. said, “this guy wrote that funny promo for you.” So Jerry and I have known each other for a long time and though he claims to be nine years old, I think I’m a little younger than he is, emotionally. We keep having a lot of fun together. Plus, for that cause, it’s worth all the effort, you know, and we do that.

On how he would like to be remembered

As being tall and very good-looking.

See Sam Denoff’s full Archive of American Television interview here.

TV comedy writing legend (and Mad Libs co-creator) Leonard Stern dies at 88

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

We’re very sad to report that legendary comedy writer Leonard Stern died at 88 on Tuesday.  Stern was a passionate advocate for writers and was a great friend of the Archive of American Television.

Known as a “comedy writer’s comedy writer,” Leonard began his career in radio, writing for such luminaries as Milton Berle and Abbott and Costello. He transitioned to television for The Jackie Gleason Show, and is credited with turning the “The Honeymooners” sketches into longform shows (best known as the “classic 39″). In the 1960s, he wrote for The Phil Silvers Show and The Steve Allen Show and later became a writer-producer on such series as I’m Dickens He’s Fenster and Get Smart (where he also served as  executive producer).  He also was creator-writer-producer of such series as The Hero, He & She, and The Governor and J.J. and served as a writer-producer-director of McMillan and Wife and Lanigan’s Rabbi and  Partners in Crime. One of his other main contributions to American popular culture was his co-creation of “Mad Libs” with Roger Price. Leonard was interviewed in 2000 and 2008 by the Archive of American Television. Here are some selections from his 5-hour interview:

On his comedy beginnings

I’ve thought about that a great deal. Why was I writing comedy at age 14, 15, 16, 17?  Why did I know what the structure of a joke was?  And I finally came to the conclusion that I was a product of radio.  And I spoke to many of my peers who are comedy writers, and we kind of agree that you listened to Fred Allen and to Jack Benny, to Milton Berle, to Burns and Allen, and you started to understand the cadence and rhythm of a joke. Consciously or not, it became almost a daily lesson. I think this explains why some of us who grew up in California; some of us grew up in Texas, others in North Dakota and, and many of us in New York, all could write the same joke or a reason facsimile thereof.  I think we became, and maybe radio is responsible for some of the best comedy writers, we became students of the medium and we collaborated.

On turning Jackie Gleason’s “Honeymooners” sketches into longform shows

I argued effectively because eventually we did it.  It wasn’t the full hour. He still came out and did the monologue and the dancing girls but then, the next 40 or 45 minutes were “The Honeymooners” sketch. And it worked so well that eventually we did more “Honeymooners” than anything else and in our second and third years,  the variety show was mostly “Honeymooners” with an occasional Reggie Van Gleason, poor soul, Joe the bartender character. And then, of course the classic 39 are all on film and are honeymooners.  They’ve endured and held up. I always thought to myself: if we’d known they were going to be classics, we would have written them better!

On the legacy of The Honeymooners

It’s funny. And, it deals with hope and dreams. It makes you  comfortable that you’re not them.  I don’t know, it’s kind of a mystery. Gleason used to say, “it’s funny and it’s never going to go out of style because it makes you laugh and it’s not current.”  Certain shows have a topicality and they are probably hilarious at a given time.  But then times change, and then the shows are less meaningful.

On the genesis of Get Smart [video clip]

On filming the famous opening sequence of Get Smart

I thought we needed something distinct and unique, but everybody has that thought.  What qualifies as distinct and unique is the idea of it being so difficult to get into this agency, almost a sense of it’s impenetrable-ness.  So we had the car sequence, we pulled up in a lavish car and to exit it if possible without opening the door and then entering the building.  And actually I did not shoot the first moment as well as I had envisioned it would play.  I wanted to go from his entering the building to the elevator dial as it slowly moved and came down and then the doors opened and reveal a staircase.  It’s funnier as I tell it than as I shot it.  That was the first of the odd things that would happen.  Then I wanted each door to open in its own way and to have, I think four doors, ones that part, ones that go up, ones that go in, ones that come toward you and then ultimately the phone booth.  So I just wrote that and envisioned it and then the phone booth. I was greatly concerned that we would have to do something with the floor.  Do we have to cut a hole in the floor to make it seem that when Don dialed a number, hung up the phone, turned and faced, when it disappeared –never realizing that all Don did was drop to his knees and it worked.  I had envisioned and put in the budget an enormous amount for some kind of hydraulic system.

On creating Mad Libs with Roger Price

I was writing for The Honeymooners and Roger was at the house. I was doing a polish on a script and I said, “I need an adjective.”  And Roger said “naked!” before I explained what I needed the adjective for. I started to laugh because the vision of a naked Gleason was hardly sustainable without laughter. So suddenly he’s saying “what are you laughing about?”  And I told him and out of this came this word game where you somebody asked you for an adjective or noun, and parts of speech. We didn’t have a name for it, but we played it at parties and it always worked. One day,  I was at Sardi’s and somebody said something about adlibs and somebody else said it’s “Mad Lib” and we looked at each other and in that moment we recognized, this is it!

On how he would like to be remembered

For making people feel better. For bringing a smile into the world for a half-hour or an hour.

Click here to watch Leonard Stern’s full Archive interview.

“I Love Lucy” writer Madelyn Pugh Davis dies at 90

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Sad news, we’ve learned that legendary comedy writer Madelyn Pugh Davis died on April 20th at the age of 90. Best known for her work on Lucille Ball’s shows including I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, and Life with Lucy, she also wrote for Steve Allen, The Mothers-In-Law, Alice and more. The Archive of American Television interviewed Madelyn and her lifelong writing partner Bob Carroll, Jr. in 1997.

Madelyn Pugh Davis on being one of the first female writers hired at CBS radio as a junior writer

I wouldn’t have had any of the jobs I had, if it hadn’t been for World War II, because usually men were drafted, went in the Army and women were not working that much then, so  that was the reason, I think, I got these jobs.  Someone had to leave. I was the second woman hired at CBS, on staff.  Mostly they only had men writers. They told me that they  would make me a senior writer, they had me doing research for some show that they  said, “well, you’ll do that for a few months and then, then we’ll make you a senior writer.” So it was kind of a beginning.  They didn’t even have an office for me and I worked in the supply closet with a writer named Jack Newman who was hired at the same time.

Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Pugh Davis on the development of I Love Lucy

Madelyn:     As a television show, at first we weren’t asked about it, they had other people I, think.  And NBC was interested.  Actually they wanted her to go to television with My Favorite Husband  with Richard Denning.

Bob:    Right, yeah, she said no, I want to do it with my husband.

Madelyn:    But they didn’t want to do that. They said, we don’t believe that you’re really, you’re married to a Cuban band eader.   And she said, well, I am married to him! She held out.  So, uh, they asked us to a write a  Vaudeville act, a stage act for them, where Desi was going on the road and then she would interrupt and try to get into the act and come up from the back of the audience and all. Bob and I wrote that and hey went on the road with it and  I think they played quite a few places and then they had network people look at it.

Bob: They had the great cello bit.

Madelyn:  And of course, they worked beautifully together and they could see that he was funny and they said okay.  So the they asked Jess [Oppenheimer] and Bob and me to do the I Love Lucy pilot.

Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Pugh Davis on their writing partnership

Bob:  I didn’t really like to work.

Madelyn:  We’ve been writing together, it’ll be 50 years, and he wasn’t sure it would work out.

Bob:  She has all the discipline. I never typed a script in the entire fifty years.  A final script ever — I couldn’t type.  I walk, I’m a pacer. I pace back and forth.

Madelyn:  We found that we just wrote well together. We have the same sense of humor.  And sometimes if you’re reading a script around a table, we would put the same word or the same joke, that it needed that word. We never had to argue about what was funny.  We just argued about the temperature of the room!

Madelyn Pugh Davis on the power of the rerun

In studio A at CBS and then a kinescope was shown to people who were going to buy I Love Lucy.  And that was the way you did things in those days.  So doing it on film and no one knew there were ever going to be reruns. I remember Desi Arnaz or somebody saying, “why would anybody look at it if they’d already seen it?”  No one thought it should be permanent and there was so many shows done live in those days, I think Burns And Allen were live in the early days, every two weeks, so it was, it was a wheel. It all turned out rather well.

Interview clip: Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Pugh Davis on the legacy of I Love Lucy

Full Interview Description:

Bob Carroll, Jr. (1918-2007) and writing partner Madelyn Pugh Davis, were interviewed for three hours in Los Angeles, CA. Davis and Carroll speak of their 50-year writing relationship that included writing for Steve Allen, as well as the decades of working with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and the classic I Love Lucy show.  The interview was conducted by Tom Gilbert on November 24, 1997.

As a footnote, after Bob Carroll, Jr.’s passing in early 2007, Madelyn sent a letter to us about this interview. “I felt Tom Gilbert did an excellent job of interviewing us. It is probably the best and most extensive interview Bob and I ever had….”  [K.H.]

Veteran Comedy Writer Sol Saks has Died

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

We’ve just learned that veteran comedy writer Sol Saks, best known in television as the creator of the classic sitcom Bewitched, passed away on April 16th at the age of 100. The Archive interviewed Mr. Saks for 2-1/2 hours in 2009.

Video clip: Sol Saks on writing the Bewitched pilot

Interview description:

Sol Saks (1910-2011) learned early that “…with writing.  When it ‘works’ you’re anonymous.  When it doesn’t work you’re fired.”  Sol Saks was a comedy writer during radio days (“Duffy’s Tavern”) and transitioned to TV ( My Favorite Husband), best-known as the creator of the long-running and popular series Bewitched.  In his Archive interview, Saks talks about his early years breaking into radio writing in Chicago and Los Angeles.  He gives his impressions of such radio personalities as Dinah Shore, Ozzie Nelson, Fanny Brice and Hattie McDaniel.  On “Duffy’s Tavern” he recalls the long workdays and his run-ins with head writer Abe Burrows and recites a memorable joke he wrote for the show.

He describes breaking into TV with My Favorite Husband, and how the series cast actors, as opposed to comics, in the lead roles. He humorously recounts writing for seven weeks for the Joan Davis series I Married Joan, for the expressed purpose of paying for his swimming pool.  He discusses in detail his work on the sitcom Mr. Adams and Eve, which starred Ida Lupino.  Among the stories he tells are how he and Lupino would come up with show premises over martinis and when producer Fred De Cordova was hired, how he tried to throw out scripts Saks had written.

He notes how he came to write the Bewitched pilot and why he felt the show was popular.  Lastly, he outlines his short tenure as a CBS executive (in comedy development) and reminiscences about socializing with Cary Grant during the shooting of the feature film Walk, Don’t Run.  He humorously recalls: “my closet was in a dark corner and sometimes in the restaurant with Cary Grant I’d look down and I’d see I got the wrong pants with the wrong coat.  And after I got to know him well, I said ‘Cary, do you notice that sometimes my coat doesn’t match my pants?’  He said, ‘Sol, on you, I only know notice when they do.’”  Throughout the interview, Saks shared his thoughts on comedy writing, his disregard of writer’s block, and his belief in honesty in one’s writing and life in general.   Sol Saks was interviewed in North Hollywood, CA on May 21, 2009; Bill Freiberger conducted the two-and-a-half-hour interview.  (

“I Love Lucy” Writer Madelyn Pugh Davis is 90

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Happy Birthday to Archive Interviewee Madelyn Pugh Davis! Born March 15, 921, Madelyn became known in the 1950s for her work writing on the I Love Lucy television series, alongside partner Bob Carroll. Watch the complete interview with Bob and Madelyn here.

About This Interview

Bob Carroll, Jr. (1918-2007) and writing partner Madelyn Pugh Davis, were interviewed for three hours in Los Angeles, CA. Davis and Carroll speak of their 50-year writing relationship that included writing for Steve Allen, as well as the decades of working with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and the classic I Love Lucy show.

When asked about working together, Madelyn said “We never had to argue about what was funny.  We just argued about the temperature of the room.”

The interview was conducted by Tom Gilbert on November 24, 1997.

Show Creator Stephen J. Cannell has died— Archive interview Online

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Stephen J. Cannell spanned many decades as a writer-producer, where he helmed such series as The Rockford Files, The Greatest American Hero, 21 Jump Street, Wiseguy, and The Commish.  He won the Emmy Award in 1978 for The Rockford Files (Outstanding Drama Series).

Interview description:

Stephen J. Cannell was interviewed for three-and-a-half hours in Pasadena, CA.  Cannell talked about the challenges of battling dyslexia and using his innate storytelling ability to break into the television business.  He described his work with Jack Webb on the series Adam-12 for which he served as head writer/ story editor.  He discussed his continued work in series television as a creator/ producer, on such series as Toma, Baretta, Baa-Baa Blacksheep, and one of the biggest hits of the 1970s, The Rockford Files.  For Rockford, he talked about creating the series, selling it to the network, and working with series star James Garner.  He spoke in great detail about his hit series of the 1980s and 90s, which included The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, 21 Jump Street, Wiseguy, and The Commish.  Throughout the interview, Cannell spoke about his approach to storytelling and characterization as well as the processes involved in producing a series for television.  The interview was conducted by Stephen J. Abramson on June 23, 2004.

62nd Primetime Emmy Noms Announced Today

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

With the 62nd Primetime Emmy Nominations, the Archive of American Television congratulates all of the nominees, including our interviewees:
Paris Barclay (comedy series direction, Glee)
Ken Burns (producer nonfiction series, National Parks: America’s Best Idea)
Kevin Clash (producer children’s nonfiction program, When Families Grieve)
Robert A. Dickinson (lighting direction, 82nd Annual Academy Awards)
Dick Ebersol (exec producer special class programs, Vancouver Olympics Opening Ceremony)
Sharon Gless (supporting actress drama series, Burn Notice)
Louis J. Horvitz (variety special direction, The Kennedy Center Honors)
Shirley Jones (guest actress drama series, The Cleaner)
Susan Lacy (exec producer nonfiction series, American Masters)
Christopher Lloyd (producer/writer comedy series, Modern Family)
Sheila Nevins (producer nonfiction special, Teddy: In His Own Words & exceptional merit filmmaking Sergio)
Tim Van Patten (miniseries direction, The Pacific)
Betty White (guest actress comedy series, Saturday Night Live)
Dick Wolf (producer nonfiction series, American Masters)

Special note: With 126 total series nominations, Saturday Night Live has now become the most-nominated series of all-time.

Watch the Emmy Awards Sunday, August 29 on NBC!