News from the Archive

Forgotten Lines, Laughing Fits, and Wrong Envelopes: A Brief History of the Television Blooper

April 1st, 2017
Dick Clark

LA LA-gate!

On February 26, 2017, if you were watching the end of the broadcast of the 89th Academy Awards, you were rewarded with seeing a bit of history. If you’re reading this I can’t imagine you don’t know, but Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope, and thus announced the wrong Best Picture winner.

Awards show bloopers are all too common. From Christine Lahti winning a Golden Globe while still in the restroom at the Beverly Hilton, to Elizabeth Taylor mangling names or almost forgetting to read nominees, the combination of nerves and tricky logistics will often lead to some kind of problem. But the television blooper cuts across all TV genres, and has had a long, storied history leading up to Oscar night 2017.

Bloopers: The First Generations

I’m sure people have been screwing up while performing since the first preview of Aeschylus’ “The Persians” in back 427 B.C., but the first man to collect them and present them as entertainment was Kermit Schaefer. His “Pardon My Blooper” record albums, which collected mistakes from radio and the early days of television, were smash hits. The live television broadcasts of the ‘50s proved to be fertile ground for mistakes.

In his Archive interview, Larry Hagman spoke of a mishap with actor John Larkin on the soap Edge of Night, which was broadcast live. Hagman had a scene with Larkin. At his cue, Larkin ambled out on stage in his street clothes, and directly addressed the camera, “Hellllllo out there in TV land.” He proceeded to wander aimlessly around the set, half-heartedly saying his lines. It finally dawned on Larry Hagman that John Larkin thought they were in a dress rehearsal, and not live on air. Larry tried to signal John to look at the red light on the camera, to no avail. After about five minutes, which must have seemed like an eternity to the future Major Nelson/J.R. Ewing, the director cut to commercial, and a mortified John Larkin was rushed off to wardrobe.

George Takei recalled appearing in the Playhouse 90 production of “Made in Japan.” In rehearsal, veteran character actor Harry Guardino had been having trouble remembering his lines for a dramatic courtroom speech. Takei watched on a monitor during the live broadcast, and Guardino was doing well until suddenly there was no sound, even though Guardino was still moving his mouth and gesturing. Takei rushed to the stage in time to see Guardino continuing to pantomime, and then suddenly start talking again. Harry had forgotten his lines, but continued on with the scene mouthing words in hopes that home viewers would simply think there was something wrong with the sound on their television sets. Good save! 

The Early ‘80s- Bloopermania!

In the early ‘80s, Dick Clark took a page from Kermit Schaefer and produced a series of Censored Bloopers specials. They proved so popular that NBC put Clark’s TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes on the 1982 fall schedule as a weekly series. Not to be outdone, ABC gave Foul-Ups, Bleeps, and Blunders a weekly spot that same year. And still a third series called Life’s Most Embarrassing Moments, hosted by Steve Allen, aired that season, as well. Having such a glut of shows killed the goose that laid the golden blooper because by 1986, all of these shows had been cancelled or turned back into occasional specials. Turns out that watching Greg Evigan mess up his BJ and the Bear lines does have a limited shelf life.

Lorne Michaels’ No Blooper Edict

Tim Conway and Harvey Korman were guaranteed to crack each other up when they appeared in a sketch together on The Carol Burnett Show.

In fact, after a while, it was hard not to come to the conclusion that the crack-ups were increasingly planned beforehand. But what did it matter? All of America loved seeing Korman and Conway giggle and guffaw their way though a sketch. Except one man: Lorne Michaels. He hated it.

From Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad’s brilliant and definitive book about the early years of SNL, “Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live”:

 

Lorne made it clear that Burnett’s style encompassed everything Saturday Night should avoid. It lacked subtlety and nuance; it was too smug, especially when the performers broke out laughing in mid-sketch, doubling over at the hilarity of themselves. From then on, many an idea would be derisively dismissed on the 17th floor with the words, ‘That’s Carol Burnett.’

 

Lorne also rightly felt it was disrespectful to the writers to break during a sketch. He’s said to have been mildly annoyed at Candice Bergen for doing it during her second guest host stint in 1976. One wonders, then, what Michaels must have been thinking while watching the first Debbie Downer sketch. Rachel Dratch was unable to keep a straight face as Debbie, which in turn made the rest of the cast break up, including guest-host Lindsay Lohan. It stood out as one of SNL’s funniest sketches in years solely because of the cast’s inability to keep it together. Did Lorne owe Carol, Tim, and Harvey an apology? The argument could be made. Subsequently on SNL, Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz became the Conway and Korman of their day, never able to appear in a sketch together without breaking each other up, and once again viewers loved it.

2004: Year of the Big Blooper

Before this year’s Oscarcast happened, the two most famous television foul-ups occurred within eight months of each other in 2004. Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl Halftime Show, and Ashlee Simpson’s lip sync scandal on Saturday Night Live. Within days of each incident, multiple versions of events were told, with different people being blamed. There were even congressional hearings! Beth McCarthy-Miller happened to be directing both incidents, and she gave us the scoop on exactly what happened in each case. Lots of time and taxpayer dollars could have been saved if Congress just asked Beth!

For more of television’s greatest screw-ups check out our Bloopers page. We’ve got a million of ‘em!

- John Dalton
Share and Enjoy:

Remembering Chuck Barris

March 22nd, 2017
Chuck Barris

We’re sad to learn that game show creator/host Chuck Barris has passed away at the age of 87. Barris started his career as an NBC page before going on to create wildly popular games shows including The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show, which he hosted. Barris was also the author of “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: An Unauthorized Autobiography” and the writer of the hit song, “Palisades Park.”

Below are some selections from his 2010 interview:

On the song "Palisades Park":

On creating The Gong Show:

On "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind":

Watch Chuck Barris' full Archive interview and read his obituary in The Hollywood Reporter.

 

Share and Enjoy:

He's Catching Up to the 2000 Year-Old Man: Carl Reiner Turns 95!

March 20th, 2017
Carl Reiner

He's a boy from the Bronx who's had a hand in some of film and television's most memorable moments. Carl Reiner turns 95 years young today, and he's spent over 80 of those years entertaining people in one medium or another, from stage plays, to radio, to the small screen and the large.

Born Carl Reiner on March 20, 1922, Reiner caught the acting bug early in life. After performing in school plays throughout his elementary and high school years, Reiner's older brother encouraged him to take an acting class sponsored by the Public Works Administration during the Depression years. He enjoyed honing the craft and began acting in off-Broadway plays straight out of high school; performed in summer theater in Rochester, NY; toured with a Shakespeare company; and wrote and performed plays as part of the Special Services Unit during World War II.

After his discharge from the Army in 1946, Reiner performed in the famed Borscht Belt circuit, and began his career in television in 1948 with a spot on Maggi McNellis Crystal Room, and appearances on The Fashion Story and The Fifty-fourth Street Revue. Reiner continued to do stage work, when producer Max Liebman caught one of his performances and approached Reiner about joining the cast of a new sketch variety show he was putting together with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, Your Show of Shows. Reiner became a cast member in the 1950-51 season, memorably starring in the recurring "Professor" sketch with Caesar, and often displaying his double talk skills, mimicking foreign languages or delivering Shakespeare-esque dialogue. In his 1998 Archive Interview, Reiner discusses working with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca:

Reiner soon began writing for Your Show of Shows, alongside writers Neil Simon, Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen, and Mel Brooks, and stayed on to become a part of Sid Caesar's next show, Caesar's Hour, where he won his first Emmy:

Reiner and Brooks struck up an immediate friendship, which in turn led to the creation of some fantastic comedy. The pair dreamed up the now infamous "2000 Year Old Man" (which became both a record/radio and TV hit) in Max Liebman's office in the early 1950s:

After Caesar's Hour Reiner hosted the game show Celebrity Game, and secured dramatic parts in several Golden Age dramas including Playhouse 90, and Kraft Television Theatre. He tried his hand at writing novels and penned Enter Laughing, and even took a stab at writing a television series. He wrote what he knew, and in 1958 created thirteen episodes of Head of the Family, a show about a family man who commutes into the big city to write for a television show. Reiner starred in the pilot, which failed to get picked up, until Sheldon Leonard saw it, convinced Reiner to step out of the spotlight, re-cast Dick Van Dyke in the lead and Mary Tyler Moore as his wife, and renamed the program The Dick Van Dyke Show:

The Dick Van Dyke Show enjoyed five seasons on air (1961-66), with Reiner as creator, producer, writer, and actor on the show -- on-screen he stepped out of the lead role and into that of the star's boss, "Alan Brady". Reiner's movie career revved up in the 1960's, as he starred in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. He soon began directing, too - he directed the film version of Enter Laughing in 1967, and wrote the pilot for and directed several episodes of 1971's The New Dick Van Dyke Show. He directed Steve Martin in four films, including 1979's The Jerk and 1984's All of Me, and also directed 1987's Summer School.

Reiner won several Emmys for The Dick Van Dyke Show, and added another to his mantle when he revisited his Dick Van Dyke Show character, "Alan Brady", for a memorable guest appearance on a 1995 episode of Mad About You. Throughout the '90s and 2000s Reiner continued to stay active in both film and television, with roles on the 1999 series Family Law, 2002's Life With Bonnie, and as the voice of "Sarmoti" in 2004's Father of the Pride. He also starred alongside George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon in the 2001 hit film, Ocean's Eleven, and reprised his role of "Saul Bloom" for 2004's Ocean's Twelve and 2007's Ocean's Thirteen. He also had recurring roles on TVLand's Hot in Cleveland and FOX's The Cleveland Show.

A few additional Carl Reiner trivia tidbits: he has appeared on all major versions of The Tonight Show - with hosts Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, and Jimmy Fallon; he's the father of another quite famous actor/writer/producer/director - Rob Reiner; and much like Carol Burnett, when he was starring on a variety show, he used a secret signal to communicate with family members. Son Rob shared what that signal was in his 2004 Archive Interview:

Happy 95th birthday, Carl! Here's to many, many more!

Reiner was honored by the Television Academy in October of 2011, and several of his colleagues and friends were in attendance to pay tribute to the TV legend. You can watch the webcast of "An Evening Honoring Carl Reiner" here, and check out our full Archive interview with Reiner here.

- by Adrienne Faillace

Share and Enjoy:

The Mary Tyler Moore Show Finale at 40

March 19th, 2017

Forty years ago, on March 19, 1977, the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show took their final bow. The series finale, “The Last Show” saw the gang at WJM facing a new station manager and a round of surprise firings. Show creators Allan Burns and James L. Brooks brought back every writer who had written on the show more than once, and crafted a funny, heartwarming script that, as Brooks says, “made the series end honestly.” 

But not every moment in the final episode was pre-planned. The group hug turned group walk wasn’t written at all. As Mary Tyler Moore describes it, that moment, “came about spontaneously during rehearsal… In the script it was written, ‘they break up and they go to the Kleenex.’” But Gavin MacLeod, who played "Murray Slaughter" on the show, says that James L. Brooks inspired the group to hang on to each other and move as one, “Jim said, ‘Go for it! Go for it!’”

Watch to hear more about the finale of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and check out our Mary Tyler Moore Show page for more stories from the cast, crew, and creators of the beloved series. 

-Jenna Hymes

Share and Enjoy:

Feel Good Friday: How Kermit's "Bein' Green" Came To Be

March 17th, 2017
Bein' Green

When Kermit the Frog sings, magic happens. Part of that magic stems from the genius of Sesame Street's music director Joe Raposo. Many of those songs you love from your childhood - "One Of These Things [Is Not Like The Others]," "Sing," "C Is For Cookie" - were his creations. Raposo passed away before the Archive was founded, but we've been lucky enough to interview many of his Sesame Street colleagues. Here's the tale of how "Bein' Green" came to be, according to Bob McGrath, Joan Ganz Cooney, and music director Danny Epstein:

 

Now you want to hear the song again, right? Here's Kermit and Ray Charles' duet :

Magic.

- by Adrienne Faillace

Share and Enjoy: