Tag Archives: CBS

TV Show: Lost

Lots of characters, lots of plots, lots of twists, lots of head-scratchers...Wait. Lots is an anagram of Lost. Coincidence? I don't think so. Uploaded by co.terra.com.

It all started with Survivor. In 2004, the show was in its prime, drawing huge audiences and helping CBS devour the competition in the ratings. ABC in particular was feeling the crunch, and was desperate for a show to siphon off some of the viewers Survivor was drawing. They contacted J.J. Abrams, who was fresh off his success with his show Alias, in the hopes that he would write a script for a series that was essentially a dramatized version of Survivor. Abrams said he would, with the condition that he could include supernatural aspects to the show. ABC agreed, and Lost was born.

The risk that ABC took on creating Lost, and the support it gave the show when its hit status was far from guaranteed, cannot be understated. The two-hour pilot episode, filmed on location in Hawaii and including a plane crash sequence that would rival many big budget films’ special effects, was the most expensive episode the network had ever produced. It premiered Sept. 22, 2004 to a huge audience and critical acclaim, and quickly became a water cooler phenomenon the nation hadn’t seen since “Who Shot J.R.?”

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Where did the polar bear come from? How can the bald guy suddenly walk? Where is the signal coming from? What is the smoke monster? Who are The Others? Viewers asked these questions and many, many more, as the show’s writers seemed to take twisted pleasure in keeping their audience guessing. By developing an unusual format of storytelling (each individual episode focused on a particular character in the story, and through flashbacks gave backstory that was often relevant to the action occurring on the island), the writers were able to create one of the most fully characterized casts ever seen on television.  These characters (and the superb actors who played them) were often stretched to the limits by the genre-toying exercises indulged in by the writers, but it was the connections felt by viewers to Jack, Kate, Sayid, Sawyer, Hurley, Claire, and the rest that kept the show fresh week after week, cliffhanger after maddening cliffhanger.

Reactions to the series finale of Lost were mixed, but those who would complain are the same people who ask “Are we there yet?” during every road trip. It will be a very long time before television sees another show that challenges and delights its audience in such a myriad of ways, and when that show comes, it too will surely be a Great American Thing.

Album: “A Charlie Brown Christmas” Soundtrack

The execs at CBS didn't know what to make of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Commercialism? The Bible? JAZZ??? But Vince Guaraldi's score won the day, and became an instant classic. Uploaded by untitledrecords.com.

Even today, it doesn’t seem like a natural fit for a jazz soundtrack to accompany an animated Christmas show. Certainly the executives at CBS in 1965 didn’t see how children would appreciate this very adult musical form. But Charles Schulz had vision, and Vince Guaraldi’s sparkling jazz balanced the sophisticated themes of commercialism and secularism that Schulz included in his story.

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In the book A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition, executive producer Lee Mendelson discussed how he chose a jazz soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas (Great American Things, December 14, 2009). “Once we completed filming I had to add some music. I had always been a great fan of jazz, and while driving back from Sparky’s (Charles Schulz, ed.) I heard a song called ‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind.’ The radio announcer said it had won a Grammy and had been written and performed by a San Franciscan named Vince Guaraldi…It turned out that Vince was a big fan of Peanuts, and he agreed to work on the music.”

Several of the tracks are classics, including “Christmas Time Is Here” and “Linus and Lucy,” in which the characters memorably danced on the stage as Schroeder played the song on his piano.

By the way, the children who sang the hauntingly beautiful “Christmas Time Is Here” weren’t professional musicians. They were members of a children’s choir at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in San Rafael, California. Was the best part getting to sing in a professional sound studio? Nope. It was getting to go out for ice cream afterward.

TV Show: Gunsmoke

Gunsmoke ran for 635 episodes over 20 seasons, making it the longest-running prime time drama in TV history. Uploaded by britannica.com.

Did we just completely use up all the storylines for Westerns during the 1950s and 1960s? How can you explain that a whole genre of programming is completely absent from television today and yet was so dominant back then? And the most dominant of them all was Gunsmoke.

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The Western reached its zenith in the late 1950s, when as many as 40 were on at the same time. Remember, there were only three networks at the time. Gunsmoke began its run as a radio program, with portly William Conrad providing the voice of Matt Dillon. It’s said the producers wanted John Wayne for the TV version, but Wayne wouldn’t commit to a TV series. Instead, he recommended his friend James Arness.

Marshal Dillon dealt with typical problems of the West – cattle rustling, gunfights, brawls, and the rest. He had an assistant (first Chester Goode then Festus Haggen), a confidant (Doc Adams), and a, uh, well…”girlfriend,” Miss Kitty.

Gunsmoke ran on CBS for 20 years and, with 635 episodes, still ranks as America’s longest-running prime time drama. It was the top-rated show on TV between 1957 and 1961, and remained a top-rated show throughout its run. Entertainment Weekly ranked Gunsmoke as the number 16 show in its ranking of the Top 100 TV Shows of all time.

TV Show: The Mary Tyler Moore Show

On CBS Saturday night during the 70s, the lineup included The Mary Tyler Moore Show, MASH, All in the Family, The Bob Newhart Show, and The Carol Burnett Show. Wow. Uploaded by nytimes.com.

When Mary Richards showed up in our homes, we didn’t quite know what to make of her. A single woman in her 30s? Not widowed or divorced? Not dependent on a man? Happy with her career? Credit not only Mary Tyler Moore, but show creators James Brooks and Allan Burns with bringing something completely new and original to American TV.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was for many years a part of the Saturday night lineup on CBS, the strongest night of television ever. Consider this lineup – All in the Family, M*A*S*H (Great American Things, Nov. 5, 2009), The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and The Carol Burnett Show. A TV hall of fame all one one night.

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The titles said the show was about Mary Tyler Moore, but this was the epitome of sitcom by ensemble. What a remarkable cast of characters: the irascible Lou Grant (Ed Asner), the long-suffering Murray (Gavin MacLeod), the pompous Ted (Ted Knight), the buddy Rhoda (Valerie Harper), the two-faced Sue Ann (Betty White), the snobbish Phyllis (Cloris Leachman), and the naive Georgette (Georgia Engel). What a cast.

Mary worked in the newsroom of WJM TV in Minneapolis, an unusual workplace in a city not known to most viewers. She had an office family we enjoyed getting to know, and a roommate we identified with. The characters grew and developed during the show’s seven-year run, and the humor was more character-driven than was typical at the time.

The show earned lots of awards, both during and after its run. It won 29 Emmys, including Outstanding Comedy Series in 1975, 1976, and 1977. The show received a Peabody Award in 1977 for having “established the benchmark by which all situation comedies must be judged.” In 1977, TV Guide ranked the “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode as number one on their list of the Greatest Episodes of All Time. In 2002, the magazine named the show as number 11 on its 50 Greatest Shows of All Time.

If you remember the show, one scene that will always stay with you occurred during the opening credits, as Mary tossed her hat into the air. The theme show was right: “You’re gonna make it after all…”

TV Show: The Honeymooners

Ralph, Ed, Alice, Trixie. Uploaded by bestoldtimemovies.com.

Ralph, Ed, Alice, Trixie. Uploaded by bestoldtimemovies.com.

Ralph and Alice Kramden. Ed and Trixie Norton. A one-room set with a fire escape. Ed drives a bus, Ralph works in the sewers, and both couples struggle to make ends meet. Sound like a winning concept? In fact, the show lasted only one season before Jackie Gleason voluntarily shut it down.

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Uploaded by voicechoice.com.

But that tells only part of the story. The Honeymooners actually began in 1950 as a segment of Gleason’s Cavalcade of Stars program on the soon-defunct DuMont Network. The sketches were a hit, and CBS persuaded Gleason to switch networks in 1952. It was then that Audrey Meadows joined Gleason, Art Carney, and Joyce Randolph to form an endearing cast that was hugely popular. The skits ranged from six to thirty minutes within the Cavalcade program.

Finally in 1954, The Honeymooners was spun off into a separate half-hour show. Thirty-nine episodes were produced, the “Classic 39” as they’re known. Ralph was fond of saying, “To the moon, Alice!” or “One of these days…one of these days…Pow! Right in the kisser!” Some said the show glorified domestic violence, but everyone knew Alice wouldn’t back down. Despite his temper, Ralph would often apologize at show’s end by saying, “Baby, you’re the greatest.”

A couple of fun trivia facts: 1) When you’d see Gleason rubbing his stomach, that was the signal that he’d forgotten his lines; 2) If you think you’ve seen The Honeymooners animated, you have – they were the prototypes for The Flintstones.

Actor: Carol Burnett

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by feastoffools.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by feastoffools.

How’s this for a Saturday night TV lineup? On CBS in 1973 you’d see: All in the Family, M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, and Carol Burnett. That roster deserves its own wing at the Museum of Broadcasting. The first two were controversial, the next two were heartwarming, and Carol Burnett was just flat-out funny.

Her show ran for 11 seasons, from 1967-1978. It was a variety show with musical guests, but that element of the show is virtually forgotten. What we remember is the comedy from Carol’s wonderfully talented ensemble cast: Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner. Carol and Tim were hilarious in the continuing “Mrs. Wiggins” sketches, Carol and Vicki shone in “The Family” skits (later spun off as Mama’s Family).

Tim Conway would improvise, and because the show was taped before a live audience, the cast would have to adapt. The result was often chaos, with Korman and Conway breaking up on the air. The most memorable sketch, indeed one of the most remarkable in television history, was the send-up of Gone With the Wind called “Went With the Wind.”

Part 2 is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Nt0yi4wbro

Carol had done TV before getting her own show, of course, and she did more TV and films after. But we’ll always remember her for the amazing talent she assembled (on both sides of the camera), and for being wise enough to give them the freedom that ended up making her look good.

The show won 22 Emmy Awards during its run. Best I can tell, it’s not on anywhere now in syndication. When you look at the morass of television today, isn’t there anyplace on 150 channels to replay one of the funniest shows of all time?