News from the Archive

From Al Bundy to Lucious Lyon: FOX Turns 30!

April 5th, 2017
Ed O'Neill

For years it was just the big three: CBS, NBC, and ABC. Dumont was a fledgling 4th during the early years of television, but collapsed in the 1950s. Then on April 5, 1987 the FOX Network launched into primetime and stuck.

FOX had trickled into the airwaves six months earlier with only 95 stations, striving to project a distinctive, younger image than the established broadcast networks. FOX's first offering on October 9, 1986 was in late night: The Late Show starring Joan Rivers. Rivers had been the permanent guest host for NBC's Tonight Show with Johnny Carson since 1983 and burned some bridges when she moved to FOX:

When FOX lept into primetime in April of 1987, it did so with only one day of programming - Sunday. The first shows included four comedies: Married ... With Children, The Tracey Ullman Show, Mr. President, and Duet - and one drama, 21 Jump Street, from executive producer Stephen J. Cannell:

From The Tracey Ullman Show soon came The Simpsons, not only the longest-running American sitcom in television history, but also the longest-running primetime, scripted series. Executive producer James L. Brooks recalls the birth of The Simpsons:

FOX soon succeeded in their goal to be the "young" network, with several other hits coming down the pipeline: Arsenio Hall got his own talk show later in 1987, and FOX scored a huge hit in 1990 with the teen drama Beverly Hills 90210 from super-producer Aaron Spelling:

Now with hit shows like Empire and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the network remains a force to be reckoned with.

Happy anniversary, FOX!

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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
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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.

 

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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

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Mary, Rhoda, and Phyllis: TV's First Realistic Female Friends

March 10th, 2017
Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman

Hearing the news of Mary Tyler Moore’s passing in January really stung. Her contributions to the art forms of television and comedy are incalculable. The characters from The Mary Tyler Moore Show (and The Dick Van Dyke Show, for that matter) are as familiar as family. Mary Richards and her friends and co-workers were three-dimensional and fallible, perhaps more so than any television characters that had come before. Co-creator James L. Brooks’ more realistic style on The Mary Tyler Moore Show would help bring about a revolution in television writing in the ‘70s.

My first exposure to The Mary Tyler Moore Show came when it ran in syndication on New York station WNBC at 4:00pm each weekday. At some point, it was moved to a 2am timeslot, where they would run four back-to-back episodes each morning. This went on for several years, until it suddenly stopped. Author Fran Lebowitz was incensed at the cancellation, and I was glad to hear her complain about it one evening on Late Night with David Letterman. She later stated:

I happened to be in the forefront of the fight to keep The Mary Tyler Moore Show reruns on the air in New York. One night when Mary Tyler Moore was supposed to come on, The Toni Tennille Show appeared in her time slot. I called up NBC and asked them what happened. They said they didn’t know. The next day a friend of mine from the New York Post called the vice president of NBC and said they had taken it off the air because they didn’t think anybody was watching it. We managed to get it back on in two days.

I completely understand Lebowitz’s passion and activism here. At the cold, dark hour of 2am in New York City, those reruns allowed her to visit with friends for two hours. There’s a warm comfort in watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show that you get from no other series, due to the outstanding writing and to the cast. 

There was a lot of talk in January about the legacy of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Much of it rightly focused on the show helping to shape modern feminism with its portrayal of a happily unmarried career woman in her thirties. For me, the other important legacy is the show’s portrayal of friendship. Female relationships like the ones between Mary, Rhoda (Valerie Harper) and Phyllis (Cloris Leachman) hadn’t been seen on television before. These three women had a supportive and complex closeness. They fought sometimes (particularly Rhoda and Phyllis), but it only served to strengthen their bonds, and to make it all the more believable to viewers. No matter what, in the end, you knew they were always there for each other.

In the episode “Some of My Best Friends are Rhoda,” Mary can’t see her new friend Joanne’s (Mary Frann) efforts to shut Rhoda out. Both Rhoda and the viewing audience feel frustration at Mary’s obliviousness. Rhoda makes her anger at being sidelined known, and storms out of Mary’s apartment. When Mary realizes that Joanne is a bigot who has an issue with Rhoda’s Jewishness, Mary angrily ends her association with Joanne on the spot. 

The exquisitely written and performed resolution happens in the tag. After telling Joanne to get lost, Mary sheepishly goes upstairs to invite Rhoda to a movie. Rhoda accepts, and doesn’t ask for an explanation of Mary’s previous distant behavior toward her, because sometimes you just give friends an unspoken pass when they’ve transgressed. Nor does Mary tell Rhoda about what went down with Joanne, because she knows friendship should never be about getting points for doing the right thing. They’re friends again, but it’s what’s not said in the scene that makes it so poignant. Lucy and Ethel were always funny, but never this deep.

Episodes like “Some of My Best Friends are Rhoda” brought out the depth and humanity of those characters. James L. Brooks and the writing staff deserve much of the credit, but I don’t think the show could have worked as well as it did without those actors. The chemistry between Mary, Phyllis, and Rhoda is unmatched. When Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman left the show to star in their spin-offs, the producers had reason to worry. But, as it turned out, by that time in the series, Mary’s co-workers at WJM had become as close to her as the two ladies had been. Ed Asner, Ted Knight, Gavin MacLeod, and late addition MVP Betty White easily picked up the slack.

There will never be another television show like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and there will never be another television icon like Mary Tyler Moore. 

- by John Dalton

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