News from the Archive

Writer Sam Bobrick Was Always Doing Something Different

April 18th, 2017
Sam Bobrick

Television writer and producer Sam Bobrick is a man who likes adages. In his Archive of American Television interview, he admitted that he has bunches of them pasted up all over his house. One of his favorites is, “I found happiness when I gave up hope.” But the one that perhaps best sums up his career is, “If you’re not doing something different, you’re not doing anything at all.” Those are certainly words that Bobrick lived by. 

Never staying long with one show, Bobrick worked on everything from the purity of children’s television with Captain Kangaroo, to one of the most controversial shows of the ‘60s, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. But Bobrick would soon move on to something else, just like the adage recommends.

It led to an interesting interview that covered a wide array of series, sometimes surprising career choices, and run-ins with legendary personalities. Here are a few of our favorites.

• Sam Bobrick the Songwriter

Before Bobrick made his mark as a television writer, he tried his hand at songwriting. And while most aspiring composers toil for years without having a big hit, Bobrick and his first writing partner, Beverly Ross, topped the charts right out of the gate when Elvis Presley recorded their tune, “The Girl of My Best Friend.” Bobrick also went on to write two Mad Magazine albums that have become cult classics. 

• Sam Bobrick in Mayberry

After leaving songwriting behind, Bobrick and his new television writing partner, Bill Idelson, pitched an idea to The Andy Griffith Show. The premise was simple — bumbling Deputy Sherriff Barney Fife poses as a store mannequin to catch a thief. With their first script, they penned a classic TV episode and won a Writers Guild Award for Episodic Comedy.

• Sam Bobrick Sidesteps Controversy on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

Bobrick joined the writing staff of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in Season 2 and was soon partnered with Ron Clark. Bobrick remembers the show as having wild sketches, but with bits that parents and kids could watch together. Since Bobrick and Clark left the show before the final season, Bobrick acknowledged that they were able to sidestep a lot of the ensuing controversy. 

• Sam Bobrick’s Dinner with Groucho 

Throughout his career, Bobrick worked with many television and film icons. But for him, one of the highlights was meeting Groucho Marx while Bobrick was a head writer on Kraft Music Hall. He and Clark would occasionally write celebrity roasts for the series. When Groucho Marx was set to sit on the dais, Bobrick and Clark couldn’t resist asking the comedy legend out for dinner. While the night was one of Bobrick’s most memorable, Groucho had already forgotten his two dinner companions by the time breakfast rolled around the next morning.

• Sam Bobrick Creates Good Morning, Miss Bliss

Few writers ever realize the Hollywood dream of creating a hit show. Fewer still see that series go on to launch a string of spin-offs. So when Peter Engel approached Bobrick about helping him create a show about kids in high school, he didn’t expect it would launch one of TV’s best-loved teen shows. Good Morning, Miss Bliss lasted just one season on the Disney Channel and Bobrick only wrote the pilot episode. But NBC chief Brandon Tartikoff picked up the canceled series and brought it to Saturday morning TV on the peacock network with a new name — Saved by the Bell. The revamped series ran for four seasons, launched two spin-offs (Saved by the Bell: The College Years and Saved by the Bell: The New Class and spawned two TV movies (Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style and Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas.) 

Enjoy Sam Bobrick's full interview here!

- by Pop Culture Passionistas

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April 17, 1967... Fifty Years Ago Today "The Joey Bishop Show" Debuted On ABC

April 17th, 2017
The Joey Bishop Show

ABC's conversations about getting serious in late-night programming began in the fall of 1966. Coincidentally, or not, that was around the time they bought the great 1313 Vine Street studio facility that Don Lee had built. There were four huge audience studios and plenty of room for lots of new shows.

But who could they put up against Johnny Carson that had a chance of winning some of that audience? Well, since everybody adored the Rat Pack and pack member Joey Bishop had guest hosted Tonight over 150 times for both Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, what about him? I mean he even had a four-year run on NBC and CBS with the original Joey Bishop Show sitcom where he played...wait for it...a talk show host.

Before this, ABC had dabbled in late night with The Les Crane Show for a few months in '64, and later Nightlife in '65, but nothing stuck. Now ABC was ready to try again. Even though the network did not come close to having the number of affiliates NBC had, at least there was no talk show competition from CBS. The Tiffany Network did not get involved in late-night talk until August of '69 when Merv Griffin went against both Carson and Bishop, which hurt Joey more than Johnny.

With Bishop hired, they needed a sidekick and announcer for the show. Regis Philbin recalls the first-hand story of how he met Joey, what Bishop's fears were about hiring him - an established talk show host as a second banana - and at 28:15 comes Regis' own description of why he walked off the show live one night in July of '68. 

Another part of getting the show on the air was hiring the writing staff. David Pollock and Elias Davis wrote for the show and shared how difficult the job turned out to be. Joey did not have a definable persona to write for and things often got testy.

Thinking back on the tension in the job interview Regis experienced, it is most enlightening to watch a few minutes of the show. Here is a clip from May of 1968 that allows you to draw your own conclusions.  

As mentioned at the top of this story, ABC had just purchased the great 1313 Vine Street location in 1966 to take some of the pressure off their studios at Prospect and Talmadge. Here is the building which ABC called the Vine Street Theater. Public broadcaster KCET leased one of the four large studios (Studio 2) and ABC had the rest.

The Bishop show came from Studio 1 and as you can see in the layout and pictures, it was a wonderful facility - the first building ever built especially for television and radio. The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, Password and more were also done here. The color cameras were GE PE 250s and 350s. In the diagram, Vine Street is at the bottom. 

Before we get to what I think is one of them most interesting coincidences in show business, I want to point out a few things that speak to the personalities of both Joey Bishop and Johnny Carson and possibly why one of them succeeded in late night and the other did not. 

After Bishop passed away in 2007, it was revealed that he had harbored a simmering resentment against Carson for something that happened at a benefit three years before Bishop’s ABC show debuted, even as he guest hosted for Carson.

On June 20, 1965 the Rat Pack had performed at The Keil Opera House in St. Louis, but Joey, their usual master of ceremonies was sick and not able to join them. At the last minute, Carson was asked to sub for him. Below you can see Johnny deliver the line that caused Bishop's anger. 

As Kathleen Tracy writes in her book, Regis: The Unauthorized Biography, Bishop complained "I was in the hospital and I'll never forgive Johnny for saying that I hurt my back bowing to Sinatra! He was way out of line. If he wanted to say that, he could have also said 'Joey, get well.' Johnny didn't know his place that night." 

On the other hand, coming out of the April 1967 AFTRA strike and the big dustup with NBC over his salary and more control of Tonight, Carson chose to sit out an extra week, as not to interfere with Bishop’s April 17 debut on ABC. This Chicago Tribune writer, Norma Lee Browning, did a week-long string of stories on Carson, and was the only major reporter he allowed to interview him that busy month. Here is her story on Johnny and Joey. 

Even with a clear-path debut week, The Joey Bishop Show had some odd setbacks. Their first guest was California Governor Ronald Reagan who was 15 minutes late for their live show. For some reason, fellow Rat Packer Frank Sinatra never came on the show, while all the others did. Speaking of  “Ol Blue Eyes,” Bishop had claimed many times that Frank was the one who discovered him, when in fact, it was Vic Damone.

Even though Vic knew Joey had given Frank the discovery credit, Damone and Bishop were still friends and he still visited the show a few times a year.

Now, this is where things get a bit eerie!

Earlier, Regis talked about his famous/infamous July '68 walk off, but unbelievably, it happened again! This time it was Joey and this time it was not a stunt.

Believe it or not, Vic Damone was a guest on both shows!

From his book, Singing Was The Easy Part, here is Damone’s first-hand account of both incidents:

I was the first guest that night and was watching from the wings as Regis introduced Joey, and Bishop went into his monologue. Then, Regis went out again and instead of their usual patter, Regis started to talk about how his presence was possibly hurting the show's ratings and not wanting to drag the show down, he had decided to quit. Then, Regis walked off stage, right by me and I'm the first act up for an audience that had just lost the mood.

Now, the truly strange thing was, a year or more later, I was back as the first guest again. Again, I was watching from the wings waiting to go on. Regis had introduced Joey as usual and now, was standing there with me watching Joey on the monitor. Bishop started his monologue with this; "Forks, you've been a wonderful audience, but my agent has been talking with ABC and it looks like we just can’t come to any kind of agreement on a new contract. So, I've come out here to say goodnight and goodbye."

Damone and Regis were asking each other what that meant, and Vic told Regis if Bishop meant what the thought, Regis would have to take over and finish the show, but not to worry because he would do anything Regis wanted, and he had his band with him, too, so they could fill the time with no problem, which they did.

Damone continues that while he and Regis were talking and watching the monitor, "Bishop said something about going home to dinner and his wife and then he walked off stage, right by where we were standing, without even glancing at us. He didn't say a word...just walked right out the exit and then there was dead air."

That was Friday, December 26, 1969 and that was the end of The Joey Bishop Show. Over the weekend, "a few calls were made" and by the following Monday night, Dick Cavett had taken over, doing his show from ABC's TV-15 (The Elysee Theatre) in New York, where his three-night-a-week ABC primetime show had come from. That had ended in September of '69 and gave Dick just the rest break he needed before stepping in for Bishop. The rest, as they say, is history!

-Bobby Ellerbee, Eyes of a Generation 

For the only published history of ABC’s West Coast Studios, click here!

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Growing Up with Dan Wilcox

April 12th, 2017
Dan Wilcox

When we were first offered the chance to interview TV writer Dan Wilcox we immediately got a vision, a very familiar screenshot of the credits rolling during an episode of one of our favorite ‘70s/’80s TV shows — M*A*S*H. Close your eyes, you can see it, too — the yellow, stencil font that reads “Written by Dan Wilcox and Thad Mumford.”

That credit appeared on 15 episodes of the series, including the legendary finale “Goodbye, Farwell, and Amen.” Wilcox and his partner Thad Mumford were also producers and story consultants on the last several seasons of the hit dramedy. But it wasn’t until we began researching Dan Wilcox further that we realized we grew up with the writer, watching his shows along every step of our formative years.

Pre-K: Captain Kangaroo

It all started with Captain Kangaroo. The weekday morning kid’s fare is truly one of our earliest TV memories. We’d watch each day in the morning with our mom as our older siblings went off to school — Make Way for Ducklings, Curious George, Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, Mr. Green Jeans and the Dancing Bear. Little did we know that as we were discovering the magic of television, Dan Wilcox was getting his feet wet as a TV writer just out of college. In this clip he talks about auditioning to be a writer on the show.

As we graduated from Captain Kangaroo to Sesame Street, so did Wilcox. In 1969, because of his experience on Kangaroo he was hired as a writer on a brand new, somewhat experimental children’s show for PBS called Sesame Street. He wrote scenes for Ernie and Bert, Grover and Cookie Monster, all while inhaling the brilliance that is Jim Henson. As we were learning to count along with the Count, Wilcox was mastering the ins and outs of writing educational materials while entertaining children.

Pre-teens: Alice, Roots and America 2Night

Through the years, our TV tastes matured and Wilcox’s writing was seen in more and more higher profile projects. We moved on from kids shows to sitcoms and tuned in each week to see Linda Lavin wait tables on Alice. We watched with the world as Kunta Kinte’s ancestors navigated the nation of post-slavery in Roots: The Next Generations and we snuck out of our bedrooms late at night to watch Barth Gimble (Martin Mull) and Jerry Hubbard (Fred Willard) lampoon the world of late night talk shows on America 2Night.

But without doubt, the highest profile show Wilcox and Mumford worked on was M*A*S*H. They joined the staff in Season 8 and stayed with the show until the finale. Along with Alan Alda, Burt Metcalfe, John Rappaport, Elias Davis, David Pollock, and Karen Hall, Wilcox and Mumford wrote what still stands as the most watched episode of a regular TV series of all time. Wilcox and Mumford sat down together and talked about writing “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.”

Young Adults: Newhart

As M*A*S*H was wrapping up, Wilcox moved on to another one of our favorite shows of our formative TV years — Newhart. As Executive Producer he sat next to Bob Newhart at every table read, taking his notes on the scripts and basking in his comic genius. In our interview Wilcox talked about some of his favorite episodes, including the one where Larry, Darryl and his other brother Darryl go back to high school, and the Founder’s Days episode where Bob ends up in the stocks with an itchy nose. Watch this clip as Wilcox tries to sum up the mastery of Bob Newhart.

Watch the full Dan Wilcox interview here and check out Thad Mumford's interview, too.

- Pop Culture Passionistas

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From Yankees Batboy to "Roots: The Next Generations" - Thad Mumford Broke New Ground

April 12th, 2017
Thad Mumford

If you had asked a young Thad Mumford what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would not have predicted that he’d one day become the prolific writer of television shows like M*A*S*H and A Different World. As a kid, Mumford wanted nothing more than to be a New York Yankees’ player. While he never realized that dream, he would join the team in his own groundbreaking way — by becoming the first African-American batboy from the squad - that didn’t even have any black players at the time.

When his baseball aspirations came to an end, Mumford turned his attention to one of his other favorite pastimes, watching The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Ed Sullivan Show. The self-professed “world’s great harasser in getting what I want” went up to The Tonight Show offices of writer Marshall Brickman and asked for sample monologues. It wasn’t long before guest host Joan Rivers used one of his jokes in her opening bit.

A stint on The Electric Company followed. Although the show had a diverse cast that included Rita Moreno and Morgan Freeman, Mumford acknowledged that the show was not as inclusive behind the camera. Again, he was breaking ground.

After moving to Los Angeles, he started writing for variety shows and Flip Wilson...Of Course. He then went on to sitcoms including That’s My Mama and Good Times. During his Archive interview he talked about working on shows with predominantly African-American casts. 

Mumford ultimately achieved his goal of writing for Maude. And throughout his career he and his writing partner, Dan Wilcox, worked on many shows and were part of the team of writers that penned the iconic M*A*S*H series finale

But perhaps the most groundbreaking and racially charged moment in Mumford’s career came when he was asked to write the fifth installment of Roots: The Next Generations. As he explained during his interview, he was told he had to write the script alone, without Wilcox, his Caucasian partner. “It had nothing to do with the fact that they were determined to have one black writer, not with some honky attached to him,” joked Mumford. “A black writer writes this episode.”

Mumford and Wilcox agreed to write the script and only put Mumford’s name on it with the understanding that Wilcox would be financially compensated on the side. But when it came time to hand in the script, Mumford did what Wilcox called “the bravest thing I ever saw a human being do.” Mumford added Wilcox’s name to the cover page. According to the duo, the move infuriated everyone involved, except Roots creator Alex Haley, but it solidified a friendship between two men that will last a lifetime. 

Watch Thad Mumford's full Archive interview and also check out Dan Wilcox's interview!

- Pop Culture Passionistas

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Reiner on Reiner

April 7th, 2017
Carl Reiner and Rob Reiner

We're so excited that talented father-son duo Carl Reiner and Rob Reiner are being honored by getting their hand and footprints imprinted in the sidewalk in front of Hollywood's TCL Chinese Theatre. The pair already has adjoining stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

While having a parent in the entertainment industry may offer a leg up to aspiring writers, directors, and actors, having an extremely successful parent can also provide potential pitfalls. As Rob says, "There’s no question about it, you are definitely looked at differently. You’re scrutinized. And if you don’t measure up, you’re going to be tossed aside." 

Of course, Rob managed to overcome those odds, and both he and his father are Hollywood legends. Here's our tribute to Carl and Rob: Hollywood royalty, huge talents, and a loving father and son!

-Jenna Hymes

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