Posts Tagged ‘classic tv’

“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.

New from “The Archive of American Television Presents” DVD Series – “John Gielgud’s Ages of Man”

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.”
–William Shakespeare, As You Like It

The latest release in “The Archive of American Television Presents” DVD series is now available. The art of acting has rarely been demonstrated with such brilliance as in Sir John Gielgud’s Ages of Man. Adapted from George Rylands’s anthology, the one-man performance features a selection of Shakespearean soliloquies and sonnets exploring the journey of life from birth to death.

Showcasing the preeminent actor’s extraordinary talents, Ages of Man was performed to sold-out audiences around the world and won Gielgud a special Tony Award for “contribution to theatre for his extraordinary insight into the writings of Shakespeare.” This Emmy Award-winning performance – produced for television and presented in two parts – was originally broadcast on CBS in 1966 and is now available for the first-time ever in any format.

BONUS FEATURES
12-page booklet with written contributions by theatre critic Michael Billington and the Archive of American Television
Excerpt from Ian McKellen’s “Acting Shakespeare”

Silver Anniversaries of “The Golden Girls” and “227″

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

When The Golden Girls debuted on September 14, 1985, Variety called it “a funny, fast-paced, well-written sitcom with all the earmarks of a potential hit.”  They called it.  The series was a top ten hit for nearly its entire run and won Emmy Awards for each of its four leading players— Beatrice Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty.

On the very same day, another TV legend was getting a second wind, when The Jeffersons‘ Marla Gibbs starred in 227227 was also one of the most popular late-80s sitcoms, peaking at #14 in it’s second season. Breakout star Jackee Harry won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress for her role as “Sandra Clark.”  Both series aired on NBC in the network’s Saturday night line-up.

The Archive of American Television has interviewed many of the creators of these two hit series, including stars Beatrice Arthur, Marla Gibbs, Rue McClanahan, and Betty White.  Visit the Archive’s “show pages” for The Golden Girls and 227, as we look back on these classic sitcoms.

“Bonanza” Producer David Dortort Has Died– Archive Interview Online

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

David Dortort, executive producer of the classic TV westerns Bonanza and The High Chaparral, has died at the age of 93.  When asked in his Archive of American Television interview how he’d like to be remembered, he said: “as a man who brought the message of love, peace, and harmony to television.”

David Dortort’s Archive interview was conducted on August 8, 2002.

Interview description:

David Dortort was interviewed for three hours plus in Los Angeles, CA.  Dortort spoke about his television writing career which began in the 1950s and culminated with his long association as writer and executive producer of the western series Bonanza and The High Chaparral. The interview was conducted by Henry Colman.

Humphrey Bogart on ’50s TV— “Jack Benny,” “Person to Person,” and “Producers’ Showcase”

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Humphrey Bogart was one of the screen’s biggest stars in the 1950s, when TV was considered a rival medium.  Bogart made relatively few appearances on TV before his death in January 1957.  According to sources (such as David M. Inman’s Performers’ Television Credits), Bogart made a few appearances on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town in the early ’50s, but his most notable appearances occurred between 1953-55.

Bogart’s three most well-known TV appearances can all be glimpsed online, and are as listed below.  Visit the Archive’s page on Humphrey Bogart to see these performances and hear from Archive interviewees including writer Tad Mosel (Producers’ Showcase: “The Petrified Forest”)

The Jack Benny Show (airdate: 10/25/53).  Appearing in approximately ten minutes of the show’s run time, Bogart is the featured guest and sends up his tough guy image in a parody that sees him also shilling for Benny’s sponsor, Lucky Strike.

Person to Person (airdate: 9/3/54).  Edward R. Murrow visits Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in their home in Los Angeles in the 41st broadcast of the famed interview show.  Variety noted: “The Bogarts, a literate, witty, engaging couple, indulged in entertaining chitchat about themselves, films and the theatre, with some amusing crisscrosses of conflicting opinions on acting and living.”

“Bogart said there were no really big stars left in the world.  He said, ‘when I say star, I mean a name that you say at the loneliest crossroad in the world and they’ll know who it is.’  He said, ‘there’s Gable and there’s me.’”

– Tad Mosel, who adapted “The Petrified Forest” for TV’s Producers’ Showcase, Bogart’s only dramatic performance on television

Producers Showcase: “The Petrified Forest” (airdate: 5/30/55).  Bogart reprised his Broadway and film role of “Duke Mantee” in this adaptation by Tad Mosel of Robert E. Sherwood’s play, directed by Delbert Mann.  Also in the ensemble: Lauren Bacall, Henry Fonda, Richard Jaeckel, Paul Hartman, Jack Warden, Joseph Sweeney, Jack Klugman, and Natalie Schafer.  Variety (east coast) and Daily Variety (west coast) had differing opinions of Bogart.  Variety opined: “Bogart, of course, remains Bogart, but somewhere in the adaptation the part of the killer Mantee shrunk to undemanding and unrewarding opportunities” whereas Daily Variety’s take: “As the ruthless killer, Bogart gave it both barrels.  Role was a natural for his dramatic debut on tv and a conspicuous entry.”

“Your Show of Shows” 60th Anniversary

Thursday, February 25th, 2010


Sixty years ago today Your Show of Shows debuted, creating a blueprint for American TV sketch comedy to come. The forerunner of such shows as The Carol Burnett Show and Saturday Night Live, Your Show of Shows is a touchstone of the kind of programming for which the Golden Age of Television is known.

Following the demise of the short-lived 1949 series Admiral Broadway Revue, many of the talents from that show were assembled to make up Your Show of Shows, including producer Max Liebman, writers Mel Tolkin and Lucille Kallen; and stars Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. Additionally, such stars as Carl Reiner and Howard Morris and such writers as Mel Brooks and Neil Simon contributed to the show’s legendary behind-the-scenes and in-front-of-the camera chemistry. Memorable sketches include the Bavarian “Clock” that goes awry with the performers as mechanical figures; “This Is Your Story” a take-off of “This Is Your Life” with an unforgettable Howard Morris as “Uncle Goopy”; the recurring Professor sketch with Carl Reiner interviewing Sid Caesar’s eminent expert; and the movie parodies, such as “From Here to Obscurity” a send-up of “For Here to Eternity” in which Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca are splashed by the waves as they lay on the beach.

Not to be forgotten is that in addition to the famed comedy sketches, Your Show of Shows, as a variety series, also employed the considerable talents of such regulars as singer Bill Hayes and choreographer James Starbuck (working with such talents as Bambi Linn & Rod Alexander and Marge & Gower Champion).

“My view of comedy is you have to believe what the [performers] are doing. You have to believe it, so you can laugh. Because if it’s off the wall, you’ll laugh one time. If they can’t follow the story, and they don’t believe it, they lose interest. Even though it’s a comedy. So they have to believe you, [as if] you’re doing a drama. It’s a funny drama. You don’t know it’s funny. The fun is that you don’t know it’s funny. Let the audience find out.” — Sid Caesar

The Archive of American Television interviewed many of the contributors to Your Show of Shows including Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, and Marge Champion; and late greats Lucille Kallen, Mel Tolkin, and Howard Morris. Check out the Archive’s curated Your Show of Shows page (with links to Caesar’s other “live” series: Admiral Broadway Revue and Caesar’s Hour) to watch reminiscences of these interviewees on this classic series.

“The Twilight Zone” Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

The Twilight Zone debuted on October 2, 1959 and has become one of the crown jewels of classic television over the last fifty years. Series creator Rod Serling won two Emmy Awards for the series, for which he wrote a staggering 92 episodes.

The Archive of American Television has interviewed many of the contributors to The Twilight Zone, including writers Richard Matheson, Earl Hamner, Jr., and George Clayton Johnson; associate producer Del Reisman; directors Lamont Johnson, Richard L. Bare, Richard Donner, and James Sheldon; actors Cliff Robertson, William Shatner, George Takei, and Maxine Stuart.

To ring in the Zone’s 50th, the Archive premieres new pages for Rod Serling and classic episodes “Eye of the Beholder” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” to our website, http://emmytvlegends.org, featuring clips from the Archive’s interviews.

Click on the links below to access our new pages:

Rod Serling page

The Twilight Zone: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” page

The Twilight Zone: “Eye of the Beholder” page

Producer Robert Justman Has Died — Archive Interview Online

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

Robert Justman, who was an associate producer of the original Star Trek series and co-authored a definitive volume on the series (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story) has died at the age of 81.

Robert Justman’s four hour interview is available online. Click here to access.

Interview description:
Justman talked about breaking into the entertainment industry as a production assistant in low budget feature films. Justman discussed his entrance into television as a second assistant director starting with the series The Adventures of Superman. Justman described his continued work in television where he moved up to first assistant director and unit production manager on such series as The Outer Limits. He discussed in great detail his work as an associate producer on the classic science fiction series Star Trek and its later incarnation Star Trek: The Next Generation (for which he served as the supervising producer in its first season). For Star Trek he discussed working with creator Gene Roddenberry, talked about the cast members, and described memorable episodes.

Director Robert Butler’s Archive Interview is Now Online!

Friday, August 3rd, 2007


Director Robert Butler was responsible for creating the look and feel for many classic television series in a career that spanned five decades. His full Archive of American Television interview is now available online, including detailed accounts of directing the first episodes of Batman, Moonlighting (pilot telefilm) and Hill Street Blues.

Click here to access Robert Butler’s entire five-hour interview.

Interview description:
Butler began by describing his early years breaking into the business as an usher at CBS. He described his experiences in various behind-the-scenes capacities on such classic “live” anthology series as Climax! and Playhouse 90. He described his first break in television directing on the comedy/drama series Hennesey. He detailed his many and varied assignments in series television in the 1960s on such series as The Detectives, Bonanza, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, The Defenders, The Fugitive, Hogan’s Heroes, The Twilight Zone, Batman, and Star Trek. Butler described his work in the 1970s on television movies (such as Columbo MOWs and James Dean) and feature films. He extensively described his groundbreaking work on the look of Hill Street Blues, for which he directed several of the initial episodes (including the pilot). He talked about his later work on such series as Remington Steele, Moonlighting (the telefilm pilot), Out on a Limb, Midnight Caller (which he also executive-produced), Sisters, and Lois & Clark. The interview was conducted by Stephen J. Abramson on January 14, 2004.