Who Shot J.R.?, March 21 & November 21, 1980

Written By: Greg Howell - May• 11•18

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J.R. Ewing was the very definition of a “snake in the grass.” An habitual two-timing scamp, J.R. – played by Larry Hagman – stopped at nothing to get his way. By the end of the third season, the entire world loved to hate this character, and indeed, the 1979-1980 season was broadcast in 53 countries around the world!

As the show’s popularity soared, CBS requested that Lorimar add two additional episodes to the season’s order. A last minute plot device was created to have J.R. Ewing shot, implementing a cliff hanger device like the ones used in the old movie serials. This season would end with the “devil” getting his comeuppance.

At least a half-dozen characters had a genuine motive to kill J.R. Ewing, leaving the audience wondering just “who shot J.R.?” Even the cast and crew didn’t know! Executive Producer Philip Capice had all the major characters filmed shooting J.R., cleverly used to plant red herrings, mystify the media, and generate publicity!

The ploy was a sensation, as headlines asked the question all summer long! Bets were placed in casinos, polls were taking all over the world. It seemed there was nothing else to talk about but JR Ewing and the serial’s cliff hanger. Pushing the tension to even greater heights was the delay of the new fall season due to a Hollywood writers strike.

There has never been anything like it in television before or since. For 8 long months, the singular topic captured international headlines alongside the election of Ronald Reagan, the continuing saga of the hostage crisis in Iran, and the beginning of the Iraq/Iran War. When the new season finally premiered in November, the audience grew until the answer was revealed a few episodes later on November 21, 1980. As his wife Sue Ellen is arrested, jailed, and bailed out, the audience discovers it wasn’t his wife, after all, who shot J.R., it was her sister. Yes, the dog J.R. had been sleeping with his wife’s sister, and she was the culprit.

The episode drew a record 76% share of the audience, and over 90 million viewers. Dallas made the cliff hanger device a primetime TV staple. It would be used frequently henceforth, and with shows as varied as the sitcom Cheers, the cartoon South Park, and dramas like Dynasty, The West Wing, and The X-files. Ultimately, some TV shows incorporated the cliff hanger for every episode, not just the season’s end, most notably Prison Break, 24, and Quantum Leap.

The success of this episode did not just hold American’s captive, but people all over the globe were asking the same question, “Who shot J.R.?” It was the single, biggest TV phenomenon since the birth of Little Ricky on I Love Lucy.

Dallas was a television blockbuster, running from April 2, 1978, to May 3, 1991, and ranking in the top ten from 1979 – 1985, including 3 years as the #1 TV show. The success of Dallas launched an entire era in television of prime time soap operas.

See It Now: Seeing RED!, March 9, 1954

Written By: Greg Howell - May• 11•18
SeeItNow2See It Now, Edward R. Murrow’s ground-breaking news program, had previously – in the fall of 1953 – broadcast exposes about the red scare. Scores of innocent American’s were labeled communists, and a growing political tactic was throwing the communist label at any American with countering views. Senator Joe McCarthy led the way. As Edward R. Murrow stated, “he didn’t create this situation of fear, he merely exploited it.” Those  disgraceful Senate hearings impeaching the name of numerous Hollywood writers, directors, and actors had been a post World War II tactic of government officials from the earliest days of television.  Senator Joe McCarthy, however, pushed hard and cast a wide net, accusing anyone, seemingly anyone suspected of being a liberal democrat, as being anti-American and communist. The McCarthy hearing in Congress was the culmination.

The result was terrifying to Americans on both sides of the issue. The fear-mongering and propaganda about communism taking hold in America went straight to the hearts of many Americans. Those unfairly being labeled as communist or communist sympathizers, simply for disagreeing with McCarthy’s tactics, were now fearful for their own lives, jobs, and well-being .  A witch hunt was on and the dividing lines becoming less clear. The great Charlie Chaplin was exiled from the country. John Garfield, the rising star of  The Postman Always Rings Twice, the man A/V Film’s Gwen Ihnat describes as “…Brando before there was a Brando,” had his career destroyed by being labeled a communist. Pert Kelton, the original Alice in The Honeymooners, was also listed as communist in Red Channels, the propaganda pamphlet naming Hollywood stars, writers, and directors as red, was fired from the show. Jean Muir, star of the hit 1950 situation comedy, The Aldrich Family, was immediately fired when she was named as a “communist sympathizer.”  In the fall of 1953, America’s number one star was mired in the sludge of the communist hunt. Lucille Ball was labeled a communist. She escaped destruction perhaps by the sheer power of her fame, but I Love Lucy‘s 3rd season premiere was anticipated by many to be Lucille Ball’s last show ever. Lucy escaped career destruction, but most others did not.  A popular 1952 play by Arthur Miller, The Crucible, also exposed the red scare as tantamount to the 1692 Salem Witch Trials.

Cracks were beginning to surface in Senator McCarthy’s tirade. Certainly, these events and other’s led to the See It Now broadcast in fall of 1953 exploring the red scare. By March 9, 1954, however, Edward R. Murrow and producer Fred Friendly had decided to take matters into their own hands. The See It Now broadcasters decided to take Senator McCarthy’s own words and flip them, hopefully exposing to America his hypocrisy and the dangerous path of fear-mongering. It was a risky venture, as journalism was expected to be unbiased, and CBS was concerned of a national backlash. The network, also realizing the seriousness of the subject, gave the green light but removed their logo or any network reference from the program’s promotion!

Just in the first minutes of the program, Murrow went into action.

Our working thesis tonight is this question: If this fight against Communism is made a fight between America’s two great political parties, the American people know that one of these parties will be destroyed, and the Republic cannot endure very long as a one party system.

We applaud that statement and we think Senator McCarthy ought to. He said it, seventeen months ago in Milwaukee.

McCarthy: The American people realize that this cannot be made a fight between America’s two great political parties. If this fight against Communism is made a fight between America’s two great political parties, the American people know that one of those parties will be destroyed, and the Republic can’t endure very long as a one party system.

Murrow: But on February 4th, 1954, Senator McCarthy spoke of one party’s treason. This was at Charleston, West Virginia where there were no cameras running. It was recorded on tape.

McCarthy: The issue between the Republicans and Democrats is clearly drawn. It has been deliberately drawn by those who have been in charge of twenty years of treason. Not the hard fact is…the hard fact is that those who wear the label…those who wear the label “Democrat” wear it with the stain of a historic betrayal.

Further, Murrow utilized the speeches of much admired and respected individuals, such as President Eisenhower, which defined a line to not be crossed by McCarthy, then aptly demonstrating how McCarthy continually, against the Constitution and consent, attempted to demoralize anyone identified as democrat as a communist or communist sympathizer.

The end result was revelatory and revolutionary. The American public came out of hiding and began to question exactly who was un-American, the fear-mongering Joeseph McCarthy or the so-labeled “communist sympathizers.” McCarthy was enraged, of course, and demanded an opportunity to respond; however, his appearance a few weeks later on See It Now was even more disastrous, and soon the Senate censured McCarthy, officially ending, if not quite completely ending, the Red Scare in America. While hundreds of careers and lives were destroyed forever, the broadcast of March 9, 1954 was American journalism’s greatest television moment, and cemented the new medium’s power to connect with audiences in troubled times. The immediacy of television continued to prove to be the single greatest instrument of persuasion, whether good or bad, right or wrong, television news came into its own.

References:http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/S/htmlS/seeitnow/seeitnow.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/See_It_Now

See It Now transcript from March 9, 1954

Senator McCarthy’s follow-up interview transcript

 

Playhouse Without a Puppet, December 27, 1947

Written By: Greg Howell - May• 05•18

 

In the winter of 1947, television history was made, thanks to a blizzard and production mishap. The television schedule was still sparse, consisting of a quiz show, a western movie, three hours of sports, a newsreel, and not much more. The few homes, businesses, and bars with television were lucky to get even 2 hours of programming a night, and the networks were lucky if the 20,000 sets in the city could capture an audience of 50,000. Television was beginning to look more like a pipe dream. If television was to survive, it needed a hit show.

Just days after Christmas, Howdy Doody would arrive; and, thanks to a savage blizzard in New England, by mid-day Saturday, December 27, 1947, the entire city and east coast was blanketed with several feet of snow. In New York City, theaters and clubs were closed. Travel was nearly impossible, and many in the city, still bristling with Christmas spirit, had the opportunity to find a set and tune into television.

At the NBC studio, problems were mounting as well. The snow storm made it difficult for the cast and crew. Buffalo Bob Smith almost didn’t make it to the 5 pm air time. Howdy Doody, the puppet, didn’t make it the studio at all. In a desperate attempt to put a show on the air, much time was spent on various entertainment for children while building up to the arrival of Howdy Doody. By the show’s end, Buffalo Bob had become the voice of the puppet refusing to come out of the desk drawer. And the puppet never did show that first episode.

In many ways, the tension caused by the snowstorm added additional layers and excitement to the show, and certainly increased its audience. By December 28th, Howdy Doody was the talk of the town without even making an appearance. Variety raved and the high viewership continued until 1960. The network’s program schedule ballooned after the premiere of Howdy Doody. The 1948-49 season brought over 120 different television shows to the schedule.

For a full account of this story, I recommend the book Please Stand By: A Prehistory of Television by Michael Ritchie. Of special note is Clarabelle the clown is played by Bob Keeshan, the man known to the U.S. kids of the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s as Captain Kangaroo.

©Wednesday, October 14, 2009, Greg Howell

Great Iconography! Schoolhouse Rock!

Written By: Greg Howell - Apr• 28•18

There are many people today, upon hearing someone speak of the Boston Tea Party, immediately visualize a giant, animated cup filled with tea, setting on a saucer, floating around the Boston Harbor! Schoolhouse Rock!, the brainchild of jazz musician and Miles Davis sideman, Bob Dorough, offered up three minute blocks of educational animation with some of Saturday morning’s all-time best sonic and visual treats. Airing on ABC, each season Schoolhouse Rock! featured themed segments of approximately 9-12 episodes. Season one was subtitled “Mathematics Rock,” season two featured “Grammar Rock,” and season three featured “America Rock” and so on through each of its seven seasons.

With emphasis on the songwriting, the tunes became classic, well-loved symbols of Americana and dabbled in such popular genres as jazz, funk, and rock. Bob Dorough created the songs upon seeing his son struggle with his multiplication tables, yet seemingly having no problems remembering the lines to his favorite rock songs. His first song, Three is a Magic Number, was released as a children’s record in 1972, and landed into the hands of ABC’s ad agency, McCaffrey and McCall. This was the perfect solution for the recent FCC requirement for networks to improve their children’s programming!

Soon, McCaffrey and McCall established a stable of talent that included their then-unknown guitar strumming secretary, Lynn Ahrens. Besides her addition of such classics as “Figure Eight” and “The Preamble,” Miss Ahrens would go on to win many accolades for her theater work, including a Tony award.

Singer and cast member Jack Sheldon, famous as Merv Griffin’s sidekick, was also brought aboard, and was the voice of classic segments such as “I’m Just a Bill” and “Conjunction Junction.”

Popular jazz singer and pianist Blossom Dearie performed episodes for the show, including “Figure Eight” and “Unpack Your Adjectives.”

While the iconic imaging is well remembered, it is the cleverly written song lyrics that are the essential elements of Schoolhouse Rock! Lyrics like

Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?
Hooking up words and phrases and clauses
In complex sentences like:
[spoken] In the mornings, when I’m usually wide awake, I love to take a walk through the gardens and down by the lake, where I often see a duck and a drake, and I wonder, as I walk by, just what they’d say if they could speak, although I know that’s an absurd thought.

From “Elbow Room”

One thing you will discover
When you get next to one another
Is everybody needs some elbow room, elbow room.

It’s nice when you’re kinda cozy, but
Not when you’re tangled nose to nosey, oh,
Everybody needs some elbow, needs a little elbow room.

And this eyebrow raising classic, “Verb,” which writer Dorough thought wouldn’t pass ABC censors; but, it did!

I get my thing in action >> Verb!
To be, to sing, to feel, to live… >> Verb! That’s what’s
>> happenin’!
I put my heart in action >> Verb!
To run, to go, to get, to give… >> Verb! You’re what’s
>> happenin’!

Schoolhouse Rock premiered January 13, 1973 and ran from 1973-1985, and returned with new segments from 1994-1996, and another 11 episode batch in 2009; ultimately, the show produced 64 episodes. These are available by DVD and the songs are available on Itunes and on CD by Rhino. A tribute album was released in the 1996, and included artists such as Deluxe Folk Implosion, Better Than Ezra, Pavement, Ween, The Lemonheads, Moby and Blind Melon.

Bob Dorough passed away last week, April 23, 2018 at the age of 94!

View several of the most-beloved segments from the shows first three seasons on our Facebook page.

Great Iconography! Schoolhouse Rock! Premiere January 13, 1973

Great Iconography! Schoolhouse Rock! Premiere January 13, 1973There are many people today, upon hearing someone speak of the Boston Tea Party, immediately visualize a giant, animated cup filled with tea, setting on a saucer, floating around the Boston Harbor! Schoolhouse Rock!, the brainchild of jazz musician and Miles Davis sideman, Bob Dorough, offered up three minute blocks of educational animation with some of Saturday morning’s all-time best sonic and visual treats. Airing on ABC, each season Schoolhouse Rock! featured themed segments of approximately 9-12 episodes. Season one was subtitled “Mathematics Rock,” season two featured “Grammar Rock,” and season three featured “America Rock” and so on through each of its seven seasons.With emphasis on the songwriting, the tunes became classic, well-loved symbols of Americana and dabbled in such popular genres as jazz, funk, and rock. Bob Dorough created the songs upon seeing his son struggle with his multiplication tables, yet seemingly having no problems remembering the lines to his favorite rock songs. His first song, Three is a Magic Number, was released as a children’s record in 1972, and landed into the hands of ABC’s ad agency, McCaffrey and McCall. This was the perfect solution for the recent FCC requirement for networks to improve their children’s programming!Soon, McCaffrey and McCall established a stable of talent that included their then-unknown guitar strumming secretary, Lynn Ahrens. Besides her addition of such classics as “Figure Eight” and “The Preamble,” Miss Ahrens would go on to win many accolades for her theater work, including a Tony award.Singer and cast member Jack Sheldon, famous as Merv Griffin’s sidekick, was also brought aboard, and was the voice of classic segments such as “I’m Just a Bill” and “Conjunction Junction.”Popular jazz singer and pianist Blossom Dearie performed episodes for the show, including “Figure Eight” and “Unpack Your Adjectives.”While the iconic imaging is well remembered, it is the cleverly written song lyrics that are the essential elements of Schoolhouse Rock! Lyrics like:Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?Hooking up words and phrases and clausesIn complex sentences like:[spoken] In the mornings, when I’m usually wide awake, I love to take a walk through the gardens and down by the lake, where I often see a duck and a drake, and I wonder, as I walk by, just what they’d say if they could speak, although I know that’s an absurd thought.From “Elbow Room”One thing you will discoverWhen you get next to one anotherIs everybody needs some elbow room, elbow room.It’s nice when you’re kinda cozy, butNot when you’re tangled nose to nosey, oh,Everybody needs some elbow, needs a little elbow room.And this eyebrow raising classic, “Verb,” which writer Dorough thought wouldn’t pass ABC censors; but, it did!I get my thing in action >> Verb!To be, to sing, to feel, to live… >> Verb! That’s what’s>> happenin’!I put my heart in action >> Verb!To run, to go, to get, to give… >> Verb! You’re what’s>> happenin’!Schoolhouse Rock premiered January 13, 1973 and ran from 1973-1985, and returned with new segments from 1994-1996, and another 11 episode batch in 2009; ultimately, the show produced 64 episodes. These are available by DVD and the songs are available on Itunes and on CD by Rhino. A tribute album was released in the 1996, and included artists such as Deluxe Folk Implosion, Better Than Ezra, Pavement, Ween, The Lemonheads, Moby and Blind Melon.Bob Dorough passed away last week, April 23, 2018 at the age of 94!Bob Dorough passed away last week, April 23, 2018 at the age of 94!Read the Greg Howell article here… http://greghowelldesign.com/iconservation/great-iconography-schoolhouse-rock-premiere-january-13-1973/

Posted by Television's Greatest Events & Iconography on Saturday, April 28, 2018

 

 

 

GREATEST TV NETWORK FAILS! Mork & Mindy, ABC, 1979

Written By: Greg Howell - Mar• 27•18

GREATEST TV NETWORK FAILS! Mork & Mindy, ABC, 1979

Every so often, television network executives get so high on success they begin to believe they are creative geniuses. Suddenly, they know more about creating TV shows than the talented people that actually create the programs. Such is the case with 1978-1979’s breakout smash, Mork & Mindy.

The show was a classic “fish out of water” tale with one very special difference. That, of course, was the genius of Robin Williams. His manic, zany physical humor took the show to astronomical heights. The show, that first season, became instantly ingrained into popular culture. Robin, and co-star Pam Dawber as Mindy, landed magazine cover after cover, headline after headline, and was one of the most exciting debuts in decades!

Robin Williams genius and acting chops were so remarkable, and so natural, people began to assume he simply was ad-libbing his way through each episode. However, this was not the case, as reported by Charlie Jane Anders for a wonderful expose´about the show, with interviews from Mork & Mindy‘s writers.

“There was a pervasive myth at the time that Williams ad-libbed all his lines on Mork & Mindy. This drove the writers nuts, because Williams always followed the script. Misch says their standard response was, “We’re up until four in the morning, writing Robin’s ad-libs.”

While Williams offered up improv, action, and jokes in rehearsal, come time to film, he was letter perfect with the script. He was the hyperkinetic male Lucille Ball. Mork & Mindy bounced around the top three of the national Nielsen ratings that first season, often landing well ahead of the pack. The show averaged a high enough rating that first season as the #3 program in all of TV, even though by season’s end, it was most often at #1. The show was poised to be one of the great all-time hits, and Williams to become one of the top TV clowns ever, ranking with Lucy, Gleason, Berle, Skelton and Carol Burnett.

Then, the ABC networks intervened! After decades of being the distant 3rd rated network, ABC destroyed the other networks in the ratings beginning in the mid-1970’s. The network had so many hit shows they began to toss them around like salads, and aside, like they were two day old popcorn. The executives were cancelling top hits like The Bionic Woman and Wonder Woman without a second thought. The network basically owned 4 of the 7 nights of programming.

Egos swelling, those executives became high on power. They suddenly knew everything about TV and creating great programs. Thus, they insisted the production team at Mork & Mindy fire the supporting cast, and add younger characters, and re-focus the direction of the show! Then, ABC moved the show from Thursday to Sunday, believing they could finally end CBS’s ownership of the night.

The entire affair was a mess, a disaster on the highest scale! The show plummeted in the ratings, and even worse, hardly anyone even spoke about the show any longer, except to remark how bad it had become. Desperately, the network attempted to return the show to its first season glory, but it was too late. People tuned out and never came back. The show continued to collapse in the ratings until cancellation was a necessity just two years later.  The magic was over.

As for ABC, their constant tinkering and re-scheduling of hit shows, such as What’s Happening, Angie, Charlie’s Angels, Too Close for Comfort, Soap and Taxi, ended their tidal wave reign and place as the nation’s top network.

For a more complete read about the show, check out https://io9.gizmodo.com/mork-and-mindy-was-one-of-the-most-unlikely-miracles-in-1745289352