Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Book review: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

I'll check out just about any book-length treatment of 1970s and 1980s TV, but when this book came out in 2013, some negative reviews (particularly a few on Amazon) scared me away. I revisited this after we covered The Mary Tyler Moore Show earlier this season, though, and I recommend it for any fan of the series. It has its flaws and quirks, but it also has tons of great info and is a fun read.

First, let me mention those quirks: The book starts off reading like an agenda-driven effort to focus on the female writers who worked on the show. Oddly, that emphasis fades once the book gets going, and while Armstrong does keep checking in on some of the women who helped craft the series, it's not like they overshadow co-creators James L. Brooks and Allen Burns. Feminism is absolutely a big part of the series' story and appeal, but it feels like there is an inconsistent approach to it in the book, and MTM is maybe inflated a bit to seem like more of a singular advancement for women that it was.

More importantly, there are some strong factual errors, especially early in the book (a misidentification of Room 222 jarred me), that make you wonder about the rest of it. Some of the choices are a little odd, like the decision to tell so much of the story of a dedicated fan who grew to knew the show's principals but comes off kind of like a stalker.

That said, the book is really easy reading with lots of cool details. We've alluded to some of them here on the site, like the complex relationship between Ted Knight and Ed Asner. The saga of how MTM was cast makes a fascinating story in itself. Gavin MacLeod read for Lou Grant before asking, almost as an afterthought, to read for Murray. Asner himself struggled to get the Lou character down. Producers were skeptical of Cloris Leachman but casting exec Ethel Winant pushed for her.

Armstrong does a great job of chronicling the establishment of the series and how it takes off. Her sections on iconic episodes like the finale and the Chuckles the Clown funeral make me wish she spent more time talking about specific installments. The decision to semi-focus on the lives of some of the key female scribes may mean less time for more of the actual goings-on of the series during its prime years.

Overall, though, the anecdotes and info in here make this a must-read for MTM fans and a recommended one for fans of era TV in general, with the caveat that there are some inaccuracies and misleading bits in the text (see those Amazon reviews for more). I personally think Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted improves as it gets going, and I will likely seek out Armstrong's recent book on Seinfeld.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Show Notes: Episode 4-12: Barney Miller, "Werewolf"

*Barney Miller aired on ABC for 8 seasons, 1975-1982, mostly Thursday nights at 9:00 P.M.

*Werewolf is the sixth episode of the third season, premiering October 28, 1976, at 8:30 against Gemini Man (NBC) and The Waltons (CBS).

*Despite my gaffe at the beginning, this is indeed season 4, not season 5!

*The series started as an unsold pilot called The Life and Times of Captain Barney Miller, which is on Shout! Factory's complete series DVD set.

*Here is a good example of Ken Levine's posts on series creator Danny Arnold that we mentioned on the show.

*For reference: Here is our episode looking at Tom Snyder (and economist Jerome Smith), and here is our early episode in which we discussed The Most Beautiful Girls in Texas (at 38:23 after our look at The White Shadow).

*James Rhodes made his first appearance in the Iron Man comics in 1979.

*Abe Vigoda passed away in 2016. Seriously.

*In real life, an outbreak of swine flu in 1976 led to a widespread immunization program that caused controversy when some blamed the vaccine for deaths and other (less drastic side effects) and argued against being immunized. The more things change...

*The famous episode we reference is season 3's Hash, which aired about two months after Werewolf.

*Fish, the ill-fated spinoff centered on Abe Vigoda's character, lasted two seasons (1977-1978) and 35 episodes. ABC pushed for the series, though Arnold didn't think it was a good idea. The season 3 Barney Miller episode Fish is sort of a backdoor pilot for the spinoff, establishing the character's home life as would be the focus of the new series. For a while, he appeared on both shows as per Arnold's wishes. The ratings for the show were never strong, but Todd Bridges writes in his memoir that ABC planned to have a third season, then axed it when Vigoda asked for a pay increase! The first season is included on the Shout! complete Barney Miller set.

*We have no evidence of Abe Vigoda playing a vampire, but he was on Dark Shadows!

*Hal Linden's FYI segments aired weekdays on ABC.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Barney Miller playlist is now live!

Our official YouTube playlist for this week's Barney Miller episode is available for your viewing pleasure! Among the highlights: Jack Soo for sugarless gum! Bob Villa gets design inspiration from Max Gail! Abe Vigoda sings on The Mike Douglas Show! As Abe himself wonders, who could ask for anything more?

Plus you'll see vintage promos, Hal Linden in FYI, and glimpses of Dietrick and Lugar, who aren't in the episode we cover on the show. Check out the embedded playlist below or head to our official YouTube page to see this and dozens of other episode-specific video playlists!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

4-12: Barney Miller "Werewolf"

The listeners voted again, and we listened again and discuss workplace sitcom Barney Miller. With half the NYPD out with swine flu, the overworked detectives of the 12th precinct have to contend with no coffee, shots, old people, and a werewolf! Plus, we work Marvel Comics superheroes and movie monsters into the conversation.

Check out this episode!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Great Moments in 70s and 80s TV History: Popeye says no to dope!

One of the best, and by best I mean most bizarre, aspects of  CBS' late 1970s Popeye revival, The All-New Popeye Hour, is the PSA segments. One of the worst, and by worst I mean most bizarre, aspects of same is the annoying group of Popeye's nephews. These features come together in this great segment from 1978. Note that the shady dealer doesn't seem to know the advice about never using your own product:


Friday, July 20, 2018

Our Popeye YouTube playlist is now live!

This week, the YouTube playlist takes us into the world of the funnies, with appearances by many of your favorite comic strip legends! Also watch out for appearances by: Loni Anderson! Robin Williams! Freddie Mercury! Plus lots of vintage ads and PSAs, and James Doohan participates in a comic-strip-illiterate round of Super Password.

Show Notes: Episode 4-11: Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter

*Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter aired as part of the ABC Saturday Superstar Movie series on October 7, 1972 at 9:30 A.M., likely up against The Houndcats and The Roman Holidays (NBC) and The New Scooby-Doo Movies  (CBS).

*Popeye was created by cartoonist E.C. Segar for his comic strip Thimble Theatre in 1929 and soon took over the strip.

*He appeared in various cartoon series of the years, the best of which were the theatrical short subjects produced by Fleischer studios. The Famous Studios package (1940s and 1950s theatricals) and the King Features toons (1960-1962, made for TV) were the foundations of many of the syndicated 'toon packages that would run on local stations during the BOTNS era.

*This movie was produced by Al Broadax, who was behind many of the earlier Popeye shorts as well as The Beatles cartoons and 1960s King Features efforts like Beetle Bailey.

*Here is the lineup of comic strip stars with their year of first appearance in the funny papers:
--The Phantom (1936)
--Mandrake (with Lothar) (1934)
--Flash Gordon (1934)
--Steve Canyon (1947)
--Tim Tyler (1928)
--Prince Valiant (1937)
--Tiger (1965)
--Blondie and Dagwood (1930)
--Hi and Lois (1954)
--Little Iodine (1943 as star of her own strip)
--The Katzenjammer Kids (1897)
--Quincy (1970)
--Beetle Bailey and Sarge (1950)
--Maggie and Jiggs from Bringing Up Father (1913)
--The Little King (1930)
--Snuffy Smith (1934) and Barney Google (with Spark Plug) (1919)
--Henry (1932)

*Ed Sullivan's CBS show was canceled in 1971.

*Wimpy is indeed a restaurant chain specializing in burgers, but it is not an officially licensed one nor affiliated with the Popeye rights holders.

*There was a Star Trek comic strip from 1979 to 1983, and one of the writers was Buck Rogers alum Marty Pasko.

*Mandrake the Magician's archrival is The Cobra--no relation to Cobra Commander, who we discussed in a previous episode. The Phantom has often fought with the Singh (later renamed Sengh) Brotherhood and also the Sky Band.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

4-11: "Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter"

This week, we delve into the weird 1972 animated special "Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter," which takes Popeye and adds most of his King Features comic strip cohorts, including Blondie and Dagwood, Beetle Bailey, Hi and Lois, Quincy, Snuffy Smith, Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Steve Canyon, and more! Popeye does impressions, Olive flirts with Steve, a number of characters eat a lot of food, and a Dagwood sandwich saves the day! It might not get any weirder than this.

Check out this episode!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

David Letterman beat us to our Knight Rider episode by about 30 years!

Recently, while enjoying a video history of the David Letterman vs. Terry Forster feud (with a skirmish between Dave and Good Morning America host David Hartman thrown in for good measure), I saw this bit: Letterman at the desk reading copy from NBC PR. It's touting not just any episode of Knight Rider--Dave would be excited enough about that--but the same episode we covered on the podcast in season 3.

Click the embedded video below to see Letterman's early thoughts on the upcoming episode. Perhaps we should have consulted him for the season 3 Battys!

"We're taking another important step tonight in the wrong direction."

I think the look he gives the camera at 21:28 says it all, but I also think we give the series a bit more reverence than he does.

Special thanks to the great Don Giller for making this material available on his channel!

Friday, July 13, 2018

The You Tube playlist for "Late Night with David Letterman" is now live!

After you enjoy our discussion of the greatness that is Dave, check out our official playlist for this episode by heading to our YouTube channel and selecting the "playlists" tab or by clicking the embedded video below:

Included in this lineup: Tons of vintage Dave, including promos, clips, and local weather! Barry White meets Muhammad Ali! Bobcat Goldthwait lip-syncs to Madonna! And Letterman (along with Mary Tyler Moore, Swoosie Kurtz, James Hampton, and Michael Keaton) cover Paul McCartney and Wings???

Show Notes: Episode 4-10: Late Night With David Letterman

*Late Night with David Letterman aired on NBC at 12:30-12:35 from February 1982 to June 1993.  it aired Monday through Thursday until Summer 1987, when it added a Friday airing (which a young me appreciated) and went to reruns most Mondays. This airing bumped Friday Night Videos to 1:30.

*Camping with Barry White sprang from a monologue joke in December 1982 but aired as the May 24, 1983 episode. Check our YouTube playlist for the video!

*This episode likely aired against news programming on ABC stations and, in the CBS Late Movie slot, a combo of reruns of Quincy and McMillan and Wife.

*The biography Mike mentions is Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman.

*Hal Gurnee not only directed hundreds of episodes of David Letterman's show, but he also directed The Tonight Show in the Jack Paar era and, as Wikipedia reports, The Man Show.

*Merrill Markoe was the head writer of the show for years and has written novels, essays, and screenplays. She and Letterman were a couple for years.

*Barry White was running his own label, Unlimited Gold, at this time but was just past his peak as a recording artist. There's reason to believe he was at his peak as a camper, though.

*Class (1983) opened in July to weak reviews in fourth place in the box office, trailing Return of the Jedi, Staying Alive, and--debuting at #1--Jaws 3-D.

*Bobcat Goldthwait making h TV debut here, was two days shy of 21 when this aired.

*The 4-star Milford Plaza Hotel on Eighth Avenue in New York City is now "Row NYC Hotel," which saddens me.

*Here's a look at Dave's appearance in Marvel Comics' The Avengers #234 in 1984. I still think he looks more like Ted Koppel on Al Milgrom's cover.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

4-10: Late Night with David Letterman "Camping with Barry White"

For many of us who grew up in the eighties, one name defines late night--Dave--and this week, we focus on the "Camping with Barry White," episode, which features Jacqueline Bisset, the television debut of Bobcat Goldthwait, and of course...camping with Barry White. Awww, yeah.

Check out this episode!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Ted Knight and that ethnic joke in "The Good-TIme News" on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"...

In our look at The Mary Tyler Moore Show earlier this season, we remarked on the fact that even in 1973, Polish jokes were a "thing." Not surprisingly, buffoonish news anchor Ted Baxter was the one making them.

Well, a passage in Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted points out that star Ted Knight wasn't all that cool with the jokes. Knight was a sensitive type anyway, Armstrong writes, but this struck a nerve. It isn't all that surprising if you realize Knight was born Tadeusz Wladyslaw Knopka:

Knight got sensitive about slights to his polish heritage and chafed whenever anyone told a Polish joke at a table read--a common shtick in the 1970s, just a few decades after the wave of immigrants from Poland to America following World War II, Knight's own parents among them.

The author asserts that the sensitivity reflected his deeper ambivalence about his character. He worried about being confused with his less-than-intelligent alter ego, and he bristled that they shared the same first name. He would groan to his pal Gavin MacLeod, Why did they have to name him Ted? Why did it have to be my name?"

In fact, he eventually bugged producer Allen Burns for changes to his character--anything to make him less oblivious, more human. Burns called in writer Ed. Weinberger to help soothe the upset actor. Burns pointed out that no one thought Carroll O'Connor was really the bigoted Archie Bunker. "I just...everybody thinks I'm stupid," Knight insisted, though he was cheering up a bit.

Weinberger replied that he was an actor and talked about the long history of the clown in theater, dating back to Shakespeare. Knight bucked up a bit. Then, Armstrong writes,

Then (producer James L.) Brooks walked in. "Ted Knight!" he said, ignorant of the conversation's topic. "How does it feel to be one of the great schmucks of all time?" Knight collapsed all over again.

True or not, it's a funny story.

Knight also had a conflicted relationship with co-star Ed Asner--often buddies, often feuding (Asner believed it was jealousy) and had a big falling out over a perceived slight when Knight didn't defend Asner over the political controversy surrounding the end of Lou Grant. All in all, Knight was certainly a complex individual and one grappling with insecurity--a personality that certainly makes me look at that scene in The Good-Time News in a different light.

Friday, July 6, 2018

The YouTube playlist for our 50th episode is now live!

Among the highlights as we celebrate 50 episodes: Ken Berry WOWs us John Lennon talks to Howard Cosell! Pushball action! And what do Lorenzo Lamas and Milton Berle have in common?

Show Notes: Episode 4-9: 50th episode CHIPS spectacular

*The Great 5K Star Race and Boulder Wrap Party premiered at 8:00 P.M. December 7, 1980, as a two-part episode on NBC. It went up against a Charlie's Angels episode and the first half of Fighting Back on ABC and a CBS comedy block of Archie Bunker's Place, One Day at a Time, Alice, and The Jeffersons.

*For our complete coverage of the classic Roller Disco episode and more discussion of CHIPS, click here.

*Milton Berle's residence may have been in Malibu in 1980, but when he died his estate was in Beverly Hills. Oxnard is about 35 miles away from Malibu.

*Berle feuded with Bob Hope for years, but the BOTNS crack research team could find no evidence that Hope ever pushed rocks down towards Berle's place.

*Actors and Others for Animals, now with JoAnn Worley as president, is still active in Southern California.

*Pushball was invented in 1891 and, according to Miriam-Webster, : a game in which each of two sides endeavors to push an inflated originally leather-covered ball six feet (1.8 meters) in diameter across its opponents' goal; also : the ball used          We're not sure when indoor pushball was invented. Maybe it was after the first pushball rain delay.

*Dody Goodman had a prominent role in Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and was in both Grease movies in addition to her recurring role on Diff'rent Strokes.

*Here's Boomer lasted two seasons (1980-1982) on NBC. Boomer was played by Johnny the dog. In fact, an episode of the show preceded this episode of CHIPS.

*Don't forget to hit our YouTube page for our playlist for this episode!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

4_9: The Great 50th Episode 5K Star Race and Boulder Wrap Party

To celebrate 50th Full Episode, we do something unprecedented and revisit a show--CHiPs! Just as we return to he well, do the men and women of the CHP when they deal with an annoying kid, humorous thieves played by likable character actors, and lots and lots of celebrities! Boulders, push ball, stars, Uncle Miltie, and more!

Check out this episode!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Great Moments in 70s and 80s TV History #7: Introducing Sweet Daddy Williams

Ah, the days when pimps were celebrated as heroes in the culture! We didn't get into the brilliance of Theodore Wilson as Sweet Daddy Williams in our Good Times episode this week, but don't let that stop you from enjoying one of the most memorable recurring characters of the era:


As we mentioned in our show notes, Wilson was only in 7 episodes in the series' 6 seasons, but he made such an impression each time that it feels like he was in more. After making his screen debut in the 1970 adaptation of the Chester Himes novel Cotton Comes to Harlem, the actor was already a fixture on the tube when he joined Good Times. Among his guest spots were The Waltons (his TV debut), What's Happenin'  (the Doobie Brothers episode), and All in the Family. As a regular, he's a riot as the postman (later barber) Earl on the short-lived That's My Mama.

Here's the first time we see Sweet Daddy, in season 3, episode 19:

In this solid episode, Sweet Daddy backs J.J. and wants to set up a one-man art show for him. In an interesting twist on the usual dynamic that we discuss in the podcast, James wants nothing to do with that "hustler's money," and Florida is the one who rationalizes it by saying what a break it is for their son.

Things get complicated when Michael takes a ride home in Sweet Daddy's car and then the Evans family gets a new refrigerator delivered by some of his muscle. Will James put up with the growing presence of "that hoodlum" in the family's life?

Yes, the character is a bit of a cartoon. And, yes, his presence does add a bit to the general buffoonery that stars John Amos and Esther Rolle were protesting:

Yet Teddy Wilson is funny and charismatic, and his appearances are always a treat. He remained a constant on TV after Good Times, popping up in BOTNS programs like The White Shadow and The Golden Girls in addition to many others. He died way too young--only 47--after suffering a stroke in 1991.

Still, even if Florida and James weren't fans (in fairness, the show does make it clear that Williams is a hoodlum not to be celebrated, but you can't help but enjoy watching him), I sure was.