Splitsider

 
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When Edward R. Murrow Visited Sid Caesar's Place

The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)

Last week, as I'm sure you're already well aware, we lost one of the greats. Sid Caesar passed away at the age of 91. This week Mel Brooks went on Conan to pay tribute to his old boss and friend, and much has been written about Caesar's illustrious career within the confines of this column alone (here and here). Today we look once again at the legend, but not as a superstar of the world of comedy. Instead, we attempt to see him as just a man.

But let's jump away from Sid for just one second. In the 1950s, there was no television journalist more respected than Edward R. Murrow, and if you've seen Good Night and Good Luck, you know why. Murrow had a reputation for being forthright and honest in his delivery of the news, and was not afraid to rattle cages to do so. The aforementioned film focuses on his takedown of Senator McCarthy on Murrow's hard-hitting news program, See it Now. In addition to that program, Murrow also hosted a show devoted just to live celebrity interviews, conducted remotely, with Murrow in studio and the celebrity in their house. It was sort of a 1950s combination of Cribs and Ellen. Hosted by a chain smoking newsman. On Friday, October 1, 1954 at 10:30, Murrow's camera crew crammed themselves into the Park Avenue apartment of Sid and Florence Caesar. READ MORE

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Stan Freberg's Long Career, in Short

The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)

You may not know the name Stan Freberg, but you've definitely felt his influence. His career has lasted decades, first breaking into show business as a voice actor in 1944 before marching to the beat of his own snare drum. Let's first introduce the milestones in his career that you may already be familiar with: in the classic Looney Tunes cartoons he voiced many characters including Pete Puma, Chester the Terrier, and took over the rules of Junyer Bear and Beaky Buzzard. His first record released under his own name, a parody of soap operas which is comprised solely of the couple saying "John" and "Marsha" with different intonations, sold a quarter million copies and reached #21 on the Billboard charts. You may know it from the premiere episode of Mad Men's fourth season when Peggy and Joey act it out to one another in the break room. In addition to that, Freburg managed to make his mark on records, radio, and eventually the entire world of advertising. You may not know it, but that modern biting, satirical comedy you enjoy may not be so modern as you thought. READ MORE

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Watching as The Muppets Go Hollywood For the First Time

The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)

At the beginning of 2014, I reflected on the past year of this column and cited a compilation of Jim Henson’s early work as being particularly inspiring. I found it so inspiring, in fact, that I’ve been reading/devouring the new Jim Henson biography written by Brian Jay Jones, a remarkably detailed look at pretty much every facet of the man’s life. As one reads about his career, you come away with two important facts: he never stopped creating new things to work on and he was always ready to move on to the next big thing. It took him some time, but in 1976 he successfully managed to get enough interest in his very own Muppet Show. The show was almost instantly an enormous hit and a mere three years later, Henson and the rest of his crew were able to create The Muppet Movie. It too was a success and the Muppet train kept on rolling.

Today we look at an artifact of the promotion for the movie: an hour long special entitled The Muppets Go Hollywood. It’s not quite the movie and it’s not quite The Muppet Show, though it shares elements of both. Airing on May 16th, 1979, a month before the movie was released in the United States, the special is quite a lavish affair, featuring many celebrity cameos from the time period as the Muppets take over the Coconut Grove for the night. READ MORE

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Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant's Five Tips on How to Write Movies in Hollywood

The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)

Tom Lennon and Ben Garant are experts on how to make it in Hollywood. Their book, Writing Movies for Fun and Profit, was an attempt to convey that knowledge to a hungry audience wanting to hear the ins and outs of the studio system as explained by two men who have actually been successful navigating it. On July 13, 2011, to promote their book, the pair sat down for a Q and A at the Paley Center to candidly share some advice, wrapped inside some entertaining stories from their behind-the-scenes careers.

The night began with a pair of videos they had produced for Funny or Die before Lennon and Garant took the stage. There was a brief conversation about their show Reno 911! but beyond those few moments, the conversation was kept strictly to their writing careers. Throughout the night they gave young writers innumerable tips to make it in the system, which I have, for your convenience, put into boldface and isolated for your edification: READ MORE

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Long Before Jeff Garlin, A Different Set of Goldbergs

The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)

There are many who say that entertainment works in cycles: things become popular, they go out of fashion, they come back again in an updated, but similar form. If you go along with that model, it should come as no surprise that one of the most popular, new television programs is ABC’s The Goldbergs. That's because one of the first TV sitcoms to rise to popularity aired for ten years, from 1949 to 1956, and was called The Goldbergs.

There are several noteworthy things to be said about The Goldbergs. In its origins, the program dealt with the struggles surrounding tenement life in the Bronx for Jewish families before eventually transitioning to the suburbs and showing the issues of assimilation into a new society. The family and characters in the show are Jewish, almost stereotypically so, during a time in which ethnicity and Otherness was whitewashed on television. They represented a lone minority voice that appealed to the majority.

It’s also important to note that the show’s star, Gertrude Berg, also wrote and directed each episode of the radio show, and continued to write every episode of the almost decade-long-run of the television iteration. Despite what you might have seen on The Dick Van Dyke Show, women did not make up one-third of television’s writing staffs. They were few and far between, but here we had a head writer, showrunner, star, all rolled up into one 1940s version of Tina Fey. She was also a woman with a very clear vision of what her show should be. She insisted that her show would not have a studio audience. She made sure that every plotline on her show had a basis in everyday events, which no doubt contributed to the program’s popularity. She also remained as loyal to her actors as she could. When her co-star Phillip Loeb was blacklisted she was pressured to remove him from the show. She refused, and as a result, her show lost their sponsor forcing CBS’s hand to cancel The Goldbergs. READ MORE

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What I've Learned About Comedy From Two Years of Hanging in the Archives

The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)

When I started writing this column a little over two years ago, my intentions were pretty straight-forward: turn the time I was spending at the Paley Center into something productive. I started going to further my own comedy writing, to learn from the past and see what secrets I could glean from the material that came before, but why not try to spread that knowledge to the rest of the world. This is my 100th article for Splitsider and since we are now looking at the beginning of a new year, this seems like as good a time as any to reflect on what I've learned throughout these many articles.

Do the Work

This is the biggest lesson I've learned through this series. I've seen legends make some strange missteps in their careers, such as Don Rickles’ first attempt at a solo TV show called The Don Rickles Show, Buddy Hackett and Carol Burnett's short lived, live sitcom Stanley, David Lynch's insane sit-com On the Air, and Steve Allen's attempt at revitalizing his legendary career through The Steve Allen Comedy Hour. Each of these stars stumbled a bit, but found their way. Maybe not with those shows, but with the next ones, or the ones after that. Giving up, though, was not an option. Maybe they had some luck, or someone who believed in them, but more than that, they had talent. They kept working and honing their craft, and eventually it paid off. READ MORE

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Looking Back on Christmas Past with Norm MacDonald

The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)

In case you haven't already figured it out, the holidays are fast approaching (Writing Tip: Notice I'm not saying which ones so that this article can be read any time of year) and the television is warming our hearts with commercials about family members coming home, wishes of Happy Honda-Days, and sitcom plots that reheat the plot of Dickens’s Christmas Carol. Here at From the Archives, we're going to add to the holiday cheer and highlight a forgotten holiday special from 1999, in which Norm MacDonald and Artie Lange try to save Christmas, but end up in a hospital.

ABC's The Norm Show aired for three years, from 1999-2001, and was created by Bruce Helford, who also co-created The Drew Carey Show, which shares a similar sensibility. Primarily an office comedy, Norm's program has a similarly dark-yet-silly tone, featuring a main character that is forced to live an adult life despite being a child at heart. The Norm Show was MacDonald's return to television after being removed from his Weekend Update post at Saturday Night Live after being deemed "not funny" by NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer. After writing and staring in the hilarious, but financial failure, Dirty Work, The Norm Show's first season was one of the top rated sitcoms on ABC. However, frequent schedule changes as the show moved from Wednesday to what is commonly known as "the Friday night death slot" lost this audience and after three seasons, the show was canceled. READ MORE

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America Meets Buddy Hackett, Carol Burnett, and Woody Allen with 'Stanley'

The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)

Remember a few years a back when 30 Rock was still on and they would do the occasional live episode? Remember the excitement you'd feel watching it? The joy you'd get as Fred Armisen made Jimmy Fallon crack up? That little extra kick the jokes would get from having that live studio audience there to laugh? What if every sitcom on TV was done like that? Wouldn't that be neat? Except the novelty would probably wear off because you wouldn't know any other form of sitcom? Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of television in 1956.

Stanley is a sitcom that you've probably never heard of, but it is an example of one of these live sitcoms that aired for 19 weeks on NBC and features a host of talent. The titular role was performed by comedian Buddy Hackett, in his first leading role. A 23-year-old Carol Burnett, in her third appearance on television and her first regular role, played his girlfriend Celia on the show. Among the show's tiny writing staff was comedy legend Woody Allen, who was no doubt brought on by the show's producer, Max Liebman, who was at that time one of the bigger names in television, having previously produced Sid Caesar's various programs. While we're at it, the show was introduced by none other than Don Pardo who lets us know that Stanley is sponsored by Bobbi brand hairpins. READ MORE

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Examining Johnny Carson's Humble Beginnings in the Cellar

The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)

In his new biography called simply Johnny Carson, the titular talk show hosts' long-time lawyer, Henry Bushkin, describes the ins and outs of Johnny's life: from the sordid personal stuff to the show business drama. You'll read about Johnny packing heat while looking for evidence of his wife's infidelities with Frank Gifford and you'll read about Frank Sinatra strong-arming Carson into performing at the Reagan Inauguration. Unfortunately, what you won't read about is anything that took place outside of 1970-1988, the years in which Bushkin was brought in to work from Carson to the time at which he was abruptly dismissed. For those of us looking for information about Carson's rise to The Tonight Show, we'll have to look elsewhere. So, I went to the Paley Center.

The earliest Carson-related program I could find in the archives was a show called Carson's Cellar, the first show he hosted after moving to Los Angeles. The program aired on the LA CBS affiliate KNXT. The sole episode found in the Paley library aired in 1953, and while there is no exact date given, based on the mentions of football and turkey, it's a safe bet to assume it aired some time in November. The show was performed live in front of a studio audience, and while it is pretty slick looking for a local show, Carson's Cellar is still very clearly not a high-budget, nationally syndicated program. READ MORE

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Nick Kroll Talks 'Kroll Show' Season 2 with Seth Meyers

The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)

If you two characters named Liz, and one of them goes by the nickname "Pretty Liz," does that necessarily make the other one "Ugly Liz?" Last weekend at the Paley Center, as part of the New York Comedy Festival, Nick Kroll informed the audience that no, it does not. That character is just named "Liz." This was just one of the many illuminating behind-the-scenes pieces of info learned at "The Kroll Show" panel held on Saturday, November 9th, 2013, featuring star Nick Kroll, director Jonathan Krisel (Portlandia, Tim and Eric), producer John Levinstein (Arrested Development, The John Larroquette Show), and moderated by Seth Meyers.

First the audience was shown the premiere episode of season 2 of Kroll Show, and without spoiling anything (I'll save that for later, but I'll warn you properly first), I can say that if you enjoyed the first season, you won't be disappointed with the next. The discussion began with a conversation about how the show started in the first place. Director Jonathan Krisel and Nick Kroll were set up on a meeting and despite the fact that Krisel was bleary-eyed from editing a segment for HBO's Funny or Die for the past 48 hours, he and Kroll still managed to click right away. Nick pitched the sketch that would become "Rich Dicks," and after hearing the title, Krisel cut him off: "Oh, I get it." "Well, it's-" "No, I get it." Along with Jon Daly, the short was made for the Internet, which turned into a Rich Dicks pilot for Comedy Central, which turned into Nick Kroll's comedy special "Thank You Very Cool," which finally became Kroll Show. READ MORE

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Looking Back at the 'John Larroquette Show'

The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)

A note: The original version of this article inaccurately and unintentionally inflated Mitch Hurwtiz's role in the creation The John Larroquette Show. Hurwitz took over the show after the second season. The pilot examined below was written and created by Don Reo and the article has been updated to reflect as much.

In the modern television landscape, shows like Louie, HBO's various comedies, and Adult Swim's often strange programming offer audiences windows into all sorts of strange worlds. Not all that long ago however, viewers didn't have quite so many choices in programming, and so there were much fewer opportunities for subversion to make its way through the cracks. Today, we examine the pilot of The John Larroquette Show, one such show that snuck through and, for a few seasons, made television a little darker.

The show, which was initially named Crossroads after the bus depot that the main character John Hemmingway has become the manager, was John Larroquette's chance to breakout after his role on the long-running Night Court. Behind the scenes, the show featured a very talented crew of writers, headed by television veteran Don Reo, creator of Blossom and My Wife and Kids. The writers' room featured Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz, Jim Valleley, Golden Girls alum and future Arrested Development writer, and John Levinstein, future AD producer. The first thing that strikes you about the first episode of this show is how dark it is. This is a prime-time sitcom in 1993. This is the era of Seinfeld, Home Improvement, Cheers, and on the darker side, maybe Rosanne. This show opens with a grizzled looking Larroquette standing at the podium at an AA meeting, admitting that he's only been sober for 36 hours and that he really needs this new job to work this time. And this is just one of the many heavy topics discussed in this episode. READ MORE

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The Original Writers of Conan's 'Late Night' on Writing

The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)

This week on Conan, O'Brien has been celebrating his 20th year on the air. Previously on From the Archives we've looked at his very first episode, and a selection of other early examples of what Late Night looked like in 1993. Today we take a trip through the Paley Center articles for a rare opportunity to hear from several of the original writers of Late Night, who are now among comedy's heaviest of hitters, to hear what it was like to write for the show, and just what it was they were trying to do to set it apart from other programs, back when they were actually doing it. On January 13, 1994, not even a year into the program's life, the Paley Center invited then-head writer Robert Smigel, Andy Richter, Louis CK, and Dino Stamatopoulos to come and talk about what it's like writing for what could only be described in 1994 as the newest late night program of them all. READ MORE

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Bob and Ray Team Up with Jane, Laraine, and Gilda

The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)

Long ago in From the Archives we took a look at the long career of Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding by starting towards the beginning and looking at their first show with Audrey Meadows in the early days of television. Today we look at the other end of their careers, jumping from 1951 to 1979, with a special that aired on March 31st of that year as a replacement for Saturday Night Live when that show was in its white-hot 4th season. In addition to its stage, and its time slot, this special borrowed a few familiar names from SNL. Today we look at a special presentation from Bob and Ray entitled: Bob and Ray, Jane, Laraine, and Gilda.

This special (I don't want to have to write Bob and Ray, Jane, Laraine, and Gilda every single time) is a weird hybrid of the classic Bob and Ray shtick that the pair had been practicing for the previous 33 years and the new, counter-culture attitude of Saturday Night Live. The program operates under the same framing device as SCTV: tonight NBC is broadcasting a program from a different television network, in this case the Finley Quality Network. Throughout the evening we are shown commercials for strange items and services from the good people at Finley, short snippets of shows also on the Finley Network, as well as musical performances from a young, beardless Willie Nelson (the last one isn't related to the fake network thing but it seemed like as good a place as any to toss that in). READ MORE

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Celebrating the Honeymooners with Audrey Meadows

The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)

The Paley Center, unfortunately, doesn't have rafters from which to hang the jerseys of television's most important stars and shows. But if they did, there's no question that very prominently displayed, right in the middle, would be a number 39 with "The Honeymooners" printed in all caps above it. The "classic 39" episodes of that show are untouchable, and will probably always be revered as one of the prime achievements in television comedy. Over the years there have been tributes and retrospectives, with DVD release after DVD release. However, one special, aired in November of 1990 to mark the 35th anniversary of the show, was significantly different in that it was hosted by Alice Kramden herself, Audrey Meadows. Additionally, this special also featured two sketches from Jackie Gleason's Cavalcade of Stars that had gone unaired since their original broadcast in the 1950s.

As we've seen previously in From the Archives, the first Honeymooners sketch had the same one-room apartment seen in every other incarnation of the show, and shared the same DNA, but featured a different actress as Alice Kramden, Pert Kelton, and a much more combative Ralph and Alice. The two Honeymooners sketches that appear in this special mark only the third and fourth times that Audrey Meadows appeared on stage with Jackie Gleason. While the characterizations of the couple do seem to more closely match their prototypes seen earlier, both Ralph and Alice do appear to soften a bit as they start to transform into the characters we know and love. READ MORE