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When Letterman Took 'Late Night' to Tokyo, Sort of

145 - dave tokyoThe 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 is that last edition of From the Archives that will be published during a time that David Letterman is on TV. That’s really weird to think about. I have a sponge on my bookcase that says “I’m in the David Letterman Fan Club” that’s older than I am. But here we are.

I’ve covered Dave more than a few times in this column. In fact, I’ve covered Dave ending TV shows more than once. If there’s a perfect moment from Dave’s long legacy of television to pull for this edition, I don’t know what it is, because he’s had too many classic moments to count. So instead of a big send-off, we’re going to take a look back at an early episode of Late Night and enjoy it for what it is: not a seminal moment in Dave’s television career, but on brick in the wall of a career in comedy. And let's be honest — this is not the last article I'm writing about Letterman. These old episodes are just too much fun to watch.

Taking the late night talk show on the road to another city is generally a pretty safe bet for comedy. You get to perform in front of a different live audience that’s particularly hungry for what you’re dishing out, you’re in a new locale that opens you up to new sources for jokes, and you’re able to inject a little something new into your formula. Late Night with David Letterman picked up this ball pretty early on, doing shows in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Chicago throughout its run. On November 26, 1985, the show opened a little differently. NBC president Grant Tinker sat behind a desk, addressing the viewers at home. “Last May I sent Late Night to California. Some people…said it would cheapen the show. I said ‘Hard cheese! I’m Grant Tinker! I get whatever I want!’ …Those who doubted me, well… they don’t work here anymore. So tonight, I’m sending Tom and the gang to the land of the Rising Sun.” And so Tom (henceforth referred to in this article by his actual name, Dave) and the rest of Late Night did just that. They filled up a Japanese talk show set with Asian fans, brought out a translator, and entertained a crowd across the sea.

Except… the set looked an awful lot like Dave’s regular one in New York, except for the paper lanterns and umbrellas hanging up. And the view behind Dave’s desk kind of looks like they’re showing footage of a busy Tokyo street on a green screen. And for some reason Kenny Rogers was also in Tokyo and available for booking. And whenever Dave mentions the fact that they’re in Tokyo the translator laughs at the idea. But I’m sure they couldn’t say it if it weren’t true.

Dave’s monologue is filled with topical jokes comparing New York’s crime rate to Tokyo’s but the real humor comes in the constant cutaways to the Japanese audience members who either do not speak English or do not find Dave funny. Watching Letterman’s timing get so thrown off by having very little audience reaction, or by having a translator redo his joke immediately after he’s performed it is quite entertaining as Dave works so much harder to try and get the joke to “land.” He mugs to the camera, and puts on exaggerated smiles to “perform” the Japanese version of the joke. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t work, and the loudest laughs seem to come from the crew.

Following the monologue, Dave performs a segment called “New Gift Ideas,” in which Dave shows off some crazy new items available for purchase. These include the Lil’ Sports Injury Kit, allowing kids to combine all the fun of professional sports and internal medicine. To demonstrate, two kids in bandages and sports jerseys come out and announce their ailments. “I’ve got real NFL compound fractures, just like Joe Theismann,” says the young girl in pigtails and Jets jersey. My favorite is the Lifetime Toast Totaler which keeps a running tally of how many slices of toast you’ve had in your life which “will make you feel proud and secure.” The audience doesn’t really enjoy this joke, but Dave quickly learns that when a bit tanks he can bow slightly, say “Arigato,” for an instant crowd reaction.

Dave’s interview with Kenny goes well though there were a few unusual elements to it. One was the fact that after being introduced he came out without any music being played. This is not a big deal by any stretch, but it felt unusual. The second abnormality was that in the middle of the interview, on a close-up of Kenny, text appeared on screen that read “Kenny Rogers — Has 9 #1 Country Songs.” Whether this was because Rogers was not thought to be recognizable enough to viewers tuning in mid-show, or for the edification of the liberal elite who would stay up for Dave but would never switch the dial to the country station I can’t say.

Kenny talks about what it was like to perform in Japan, what it was like to have a beard while in Japan, and informs Dave about Kobe beef before performing “Morning Desire” with Paul and the band.

Next, Larry “Bud” Melman is set loose, wearing a truly terrible hairpiece, to perform a bit of cultural exchange and answer the questions that these citizens of Tokyo might have for their American hosts. As all my favorite Melman bits do, this segment goes off the rails immediately, but this time it’s not Bud’s fault. The first audience member stands up to ask a question and the translator begins to put it in English, but falters. “It is so heavy…The question is to do with the money…the, what is it called…” “Financial,” says the supposed Tokyo citizen, trying to help, but ruining the bit. Smile on his face, Dave shakes his head in mock frustration and begins to walk down the stairs, back on to the stage. The question ends up being about the weakening dollar versus the yen and Larry offers this sage advice: “In the coming currency collapse both the dollar and the yen will be worthless. Stick with the four G’s: gold, groceries, guns, and guts.”

Then baseball player and now Oklahoma state senator, Randy Bass, also appears on panel, as does Masahiro Takahashi, Japanese game show producer. However, my favorite part of the last section of the show is a pre-taped segment featuring Paul Shaffer in which he stands by a bookcase and tells the audience, “if you want to learn more about the subjects we covered in tonight’s show, you’ll find these volumes in your local library: Making it With Music by Kenny Rogers, Japan the Passing Lane: An Insider’s Account of Life in a Japanese Auto Factory by Satoshi Kamata, and Getting Into Pro Baseball by Mike Dyer. Remember reading makes books fun.”

On the whole, this is basically a regular episode of Late Night with what can barely be called a gimmick piled on top of it, but I truly love how much traction one can get out of a little bit of commitment to a premise, a little bit of lying, and a lot of silliness. Those elements right there are what made Dave’s show different from all the others and his absence will be felt.

Thanks for all the years of laughs, Dave. I’ll see you at the Paley Center.

Ramsey Ess is a freelance writer for television, podcaster and a guy on Twitter. His webseries "Ramsey Has a Time Machine" just launched a second season featuring Chris Elliott!

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When Network TV Got 'Politically Incorrect'

143 - MaherThe 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 unwritten mission statement of “From the Archives” is to preserve the rich history of television comedy and expose readers to things they may not have known existed. Taking that into account, it may not make a lot of sense to spend an article examining a purely topical comedy show from nearly 20 years ago. However, Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect holds an important place in the world of TV satire and so even if its subject matter episode to episode was rather ephemeral, it still deserves it’s moment in the sun. Even if that means I’m going to have to explain a number of pop culture references.

Politically Incorrect launched on Comedy Central in 1993 and became a massive hit. The show began with a short monologue from Maher on topics of the day before introducing his guests, who would be present for the remainder of the episode. The four panelists, who would frequently come from politics, music, comedy, and film, then be presented with topics that they would then discuss. While these conversations would often have an undercurrent of humor running through them, they would also get very serious. Maher, acting as moderator would interject into conversations to fill both of these roles: sometimes he’d offer a joke of some kind, other times he would bring up an interesting point or call a panelist out on something ridiculously untrue that they had said.

The show proved successful enough that in 1997 ABC came calling and stole it away, which I believe is the only example of a show moving from Comedy Central while still in production. (Mystery Science Theater 3000 would later move to the Sci-Fi Channel, but that was after Comedy Central had already cancelled it.) Today we look at the first episode of the ABC era as well as the later history of the show into the next millennium. READ MORE

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How George Carlin Changed Comedy In His First HBO Special

142 - carlinThe 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.)

Comedian Todd Glass doesn’t find any power behind saying “I swear to God,” he’s created a version of the phrase that allows him to properly express his sincerity. He says, “I swear to Carlin.” He’s not the first comedian to make the comparison between the two figures; they both loom as large as one can in comedy. We’ve looked at a few examples of Carlin’s very early appearances on television, but these represented Phase One of George Carlin. Back then he was clean cut. He wore a suit. He told jokes about observations. He did characters. In one example, he sang a song. Today we look at one the first television appearances of George Carlin: Phase Two, and one of the most important standup comedy documents of all-time, George Carlin’s first HBO special.

Recorded in 1977 as part of HBO’s On Location series, George Carlin’s ninety-minute special caused a stir in America before it even aired. When word got out about the kind of language Carlin had used in the performance, and the fact that it had been recorded for broadcast, word spread quickly, and a lawsuit was triggered at the FCC. Suddenly Carlin lost bookings in some clubs, and he was basically blacklisted from the major networks. So, how did we go from the guy who played the Hippy Dippy Weatherman getting dragged through the halls of Washington?

In the late sixties, George Carlin was huge. With his slicked-back hair and his nicely pressed suit, he was a mainstay on television, and played all the major clubs in Vegas. Sure, he was funny, but he didn’t do anything that really set him apart from the other guys on TV. At this point in his career, George was pulling down $250,000 a year (a cool million in today’s dollars) and owned his own private jet to fly him from gig to gig, but he was bored. No doubt Carlin could feel the winds of change blowing around him and was beginning to feel the call of the “counterculture movement.” He was in the audience the night Lenny Bruce was arrested for obscenity (he was arrested too, but because he didn’t have an ID on him).

So, Carlin decided to do something different. He got a new management team. He started doing smaller rooms, reducing his income by 90%, and according to Richard Zoglin’s book Comedy at the Edge, angered a few of the older comedy acts along the way. “In an instant he made them old-fashioned,” said Dennis Klein, writer for Vegas comics of the time. “He was seen as a turncoat. He was basically slapping them in the face.” But Carlin persisted, and a new persona was born. He maintained all the wit and commentary of his old voice, but married it with a hipper, more rebellious attitude that spoke to a new generation that was hungry to hear it. READ MORE

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Steve Martin Tries Prime-Time Variety with '3 Girls 3'

142 - 3girls3The 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.)

Like westerns before it, the variety show is a TV genre that has gone the way of the dodo in America. Every once in a while it tries to sneak back on to a schedule, or someone like Viva Variety will try to subvert the genre, but they never seem to last too long. But in the sixties and seventies, TV was lousy with them. Most featured some kind of celebrity to anchor the show and introduce the sketches, or the musical guest, or the dancing dog act, or whatever was on tap that evening. Some were political, like Rowin and Martin, some were more musical like Sonny and Cher, and some were awful, like Pinky Lady and Jeff. One show that doesn’t exactly fit into any of those categories was 3 Girls 3.

You’ve probably never heard of 3 Girls 3, and that’s because it only lasted four weeks, but it started with something that was a bit unusual for a variety show: it cast three unknowns. Debbie Allen, Ellen Foley, and Mimi Kennedy were thrust together to host a primetime TV show. Sure, that happens every so often today, but this is back when there were only three networks. This was a real gimmick. What’s even more surprising is that even though this show only lasted a month, each of these women have continued working consistently in Hollywood. You might know Mimi Kennedy as the mom from Midnight in Paris, or Dharma’s mom on Dharma and Greg, Ellen Foley was on the first season of Night Court, and did a ton of Broadway stuff, and Debbie Allen has played a recurring urologist (my new favorite term) on Grey’s Anatomy, and seems to appear in any project on television that involves dancing. The reason that none of these women disappeared after this show is because they’re all very talented, and that was clear even from this one hour’s worth of content from June of 1977 that I watched.

The show opens with our hosts driving to the studio (all in the front seat, of course) while singing the theme song. They take the stage, perform a medley of show tunes and then a short monologue in which they talk a little bit about the audition process and establish their characters as the silly one, the dry one, and the tough one. The audience is very responsive, although I’m not sure that there actually was an audience there since there are zero crowd shots and every TV show during this time sounds like a laugh track machine anyway. They then bring out their guest for the night, Mr. Steve Martin! (I buried the lede!) READ MORE

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Watching as Bob Hope Entertains Vietnam

141 - hopevietnamThe 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.)

For a long period in America, if you looked up the word “comedy” in the collective cultural dictionary there’d be a picture of Bob Hope holding a golf club next to it. The man was an institution as he conquered radio, television, movies; he had a syndicated daily newspaper column, a comic book, and still holds the record for most frequent Oscar host (18 times). The Bob Hope comedy special became a yearly tradition on television, and when America was at war, whether it be World War II or the Gulf War and everything in between, Hope would travel with the USO and put on a show for the boys. But around the time of the Vietnam War, things began to change. As the political climate changed and the war became more and more unpopular with Americans, Hope doubled down on the patriotism, permanently damaging his relationship with America.

Richard Zoglin, author of the new and definitive Hope biography entitled Hope: Entertainer of the Century, describes Vietnam as Hope’s turning point in the American eye. “His tours to entertain troops during World War II had made him a national hero,” he writes. “By the turbulent 1960s, he was the court-approved jester, the Establishment’s comedian.” Hope did his first show in Vietnam in 1963 and it was wildly successful. The footage shot there that year was turned into not just one wildly successful TV special but two, and an album was released him performing there. Hope would return to Vietnam and the surrounding areas each year, but as troop levels surged from 35,000 to just shy of 550,000 at their peak, tensions back home mounted. Hope kept coming back to Vietnam for nine straight years and as each one passed, Bob sound more and more out of touch with the younger generation, even though they provided him with some new material. Another example from Zoglin’s book: “It’s very confusing; everybody looks like Samson and talks like Delilah." READ MORE

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Comedy Legend Stan Freberg Has Died at Age 88

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Stan Freberg, comedian, musician, radio host, record star, advertising pioneer, voice actor, and occasional puppeteer has passed away today at the age of 88. Freberg began his long career right out of high school in 1945 as the voice of a number of characters in the original Looney Tunes shorts before striking it out on his own with a series of Capitol Records recordings. These parodies and elaborate concept albums would later serve as a major inspiration for 'Weird Al' Yankovic.

His most famous works include his radio show, which was literally the last original comedy show produced during the golden age of radio, which we looked at in detail in February, and his hilarious album Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America, Part One, which we discussed in this full career retrospective.

Freberg's unique vision and rich satire were decades ahead of their time and his influence is will continue to be felt for decades to come. Rest in peace, Mr. Freberg.

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A Guide to the Hard-to-Find Comedy Albums of Albert Brooks

140 -brooksalbumsA few years ago in From the Archives, we did a deep dive and examined Albert Brooks’s early short films, and reminded ourselves at how creative and unique a talent the man is. Throughout these shorts we were shown a laundry list of creative ideas, jokes that still hold up today, and satire that is just as sharp now as it was in the seventies. Today we’re going to examine Albert’s two incredibly innovative albums and we'll find that even with the video component removed, these qualities still apply. Each album features a uniquely audio premise, and one was nominated for a Grammy and hasn’t been reissued since it’s initial vinyl release. Buckle up and prepare yourselves for 1973’s Comedy Minus One, and 1975’s A Star is Bought. READ MORE

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The Johnny Carson Comeback Special That Never Was

johnny-carsonOn Mark Malkoff’s wonderful Carson Podcast, several guests have been asked about why they believe that when Johnny said goodbye on May 22, 1992 he never returned to television in any substantial form. Several of them say that Johnny cited Bob Hope as the inspiration behind his desire to remain off the air. Hope was being wheeled out on stage until the very end as a comedy icon that performed less and less comedy as the years went on. Carson, on the other hand, wanted to get off the stage before that could happen to him, ensuring that his audience would forever remember him as a master of late night.

But what if Johnny had changed his mind and made his triumphant return? What if there was a television spectacular that would air exactly two years after Johnny said goodbye in May of 1992? What if it perfectly married the voice and sensibility of Carson’s Tonight Show with the “behind-the-scenes” format frequently utilized by of one of his greatest comedy idols, Jack Benny? Wouldn’t that have been something?

Well, it almost was.

The Johnny Carson (I’m Not Even Sure I Want To) Return to TV Special exists only in the form of a first draft script and is a collection of sketches, starring Johnny, in which he satirizes the '90s television landscape while presenting the audience with a look at what it could look like if he were to accept the many ridiculous offers he was being pitched. In these scenes we see Johnny as the lead character on sitcoms, as a shill on the Home Shopping Network, and the host of a game show, simultaneously allowing Carson to give viewers a taste of what his return might look like while showing them why they need to be careful what they wish for. I’ll speak in more detail about the special that never was in a moment, but first: a little backstory. READ MORE

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Watching Mel Brooks' Short-Lived Robin Hood Sitcom

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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.)

It’s practically a function of autocorrect at this point: you type “Mel Brooks,” the word “legend” pops up automatically. You don’t need me to tell you about his storied career spanning decades and covering such diverse media as the most successful live television show of its day, Your Show of Shows, successful film after film, records with partner Carl Reiner, the single-camera sitcom, the smash Broadway hit The Producers, and on and on. So, I’m not going to. He’s funny. You already know him. We’re done with that part. Let’s get to the fun part.

Today we’re looking at Mel’s second attempt at a sitcom. His first was Get Smart, which he co-created with the similarly legendary Buck Henry, and, true to form, was wildly successful. It went on for 138 episodes over 5 seasons, launched a number of catchphrases, and expertly satirized sixties spy culture. Mel, however, didn’t have an awful lot to do with the show after its formation. He launched the boat, and then happily waved from shore. He then went on to a streak of hits, directing and either writing or co-writing The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein, before deciding to dip his toe back into television where he got his start.

The show was called When Things Were Rotten, and was Brooks’ first journey to a well that he would travel to again a few decades later. Running for only 13 episodes in 1975, the show was a parody of the legend of Robin Hood, and is simply dripping with Mel Brooks’s flair. Sight gags, one-liners, and jokes playing on anachronisms are constantly flying at the audience at a breakneck pace unlike anything else on TV at the time. The show launches into a very Brooksian theme song which exclaims, “"They laughed, they loved, they fought, they drank / They jumped a lot of fences / They robbed the rich, gave to the poor / Except what they kept for expenses!” READ MORE

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David Letterman Says Goodbye to Mornings

137 - MorningLettermanThe 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.)

As we move closer to the end of the long Letterman era of television, It’s interesting to remember that this will actually be the third time Dave has closed down a TV show. The second was in 1993 when Letterman said goodbye to NBC and relaunched his show an hour earlier on CBS (we covered that farewell over here). Today we look back at Dave’s first televised goodbye on October 24, 1980, when the experiment that was The David Letterman Show signed off one last time.

There are a few things that made The David Letterman Show different from Dave’s later shows. First, there’s the fact that it was 90 minutes. Eventually that was cut down to an hour, but that’s an extra two and a half hours of content they had to create every week. Second, there’s the fact that it was broadcast live. This leads to a much more vocal studio audience (apparently, knowing that their friends could be seeing it right then led to people wanting to make a lot more noise), and a few more flubs, though this could be due to the fact that Dave was so new to hosting. And finally there was the fact that it was on at 10am.

Despite all this, the tone of The David Letterman Show was much closer to his current show than it was to Ellen and the other daytime fare. The “Viewer Mail,” “Stupid Pet Tricks” and “Small Town News” segments began there, and continued across each of Dave’s shows, (he performed the latter earlier this week), Dave had an obnoxious buzzer installed by his desk that he would hit intermittently, and his dry and irreverent sense of humor was deeply ingrained into the program, no matter what time it was on. READ MORE

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'The Stan Freberg Show': Radio's Last Comedy Series

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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.)

We live in a time of transition when it comes to the comedy we watch. TV and movies are finding that they now have a new medium to compete with and are slowly adapting to find their footing in this digital world. Ultimately, long-standing broadcast empires will change shape, merge, and find new forms as they transition from one medium to the next.

But this is not the first time this has happened. In Tim Wu’s book The Master Switch, he details the transition from radio to television as one that happens relatively quickly, but with it came many changes to the industry that had to happen very quickly. Just as with any other transition, as television surpassed radio in popularity, there were a few personalities that would be left behind. Today we examine the very last original comedy program produced for radio: 1957’s The Stan Freberg Show. READ MORE

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Michael Keaton Reunites Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke

135 - KeatonMoore
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 few years ago, who would have expected that Michael Keaton would be a Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominee? After a few years of dormancy, Keaton has emerged from the ashes in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s dark comedy Birdman, surprising many with his nuanced, emotionally charged, and funny performance. Best known as both Batman and Beetlejuice, Keaton has always been able to play dramatic characters that have that comedic energy bubbling just beneath the surface, and the reason he’s able to do that so effortlessly is because he started out as a stand-up. Longtime readers of From the Archives (they refer to themselves with the unwieldy moniker “From the Archivists”) remember that we previously saw Keaton on Mary Tyler Moore’s follow-up to her famous sitcom, Mary, along with fellow cast member and then-standup, David Letterman. That particular show was cancelled after three episodes. So, then came the follow-up, The Mary Tyler Moore Hour, which blended Mary with The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Letterman was gone, doing his tour of game shows and talk shows that would lead to his own morning show on NBC, but his co-worker Michael Keaton, stuck around. READ MORE

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David Steinberg Introduces the World to the Cast of 'SCTV'

134 - SteinbergThe 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.)

Canada’s David Steinberg is probably best known today as the host of Showtime’s Inside Comedy. As you no doubt gathered from the title, in it Steinberg sits down with a number of popular comedians and speaks to them about their craft. However, if that’s the only place you know Steinberg from, you may not realize that he was once one of those popular comedians. Over the years, David has been the host of two comedy shows bearing the name The David Steinberg Show, released a number of comedy albums, and his satirical sermons that he delivered on The Smothers Brothers Show has been cited as one of the contributing controversial elements that led to CBS’ eventual cancellation of the program (Steinberg’s father was a rabbi, so religion was never too far away). Today we examine the second show called The David Steinberg Show, which aired on CTV in 1976 and gave birth to a number of comedy’s brightest stars.

The first David Steinberg Show was an hour-long sketch show that aired on CBS for five weeks in 1972. Steinberg himself was the only constant, and featured guest actors who would jump into the fray. But let’s jump forward four years, and across the America/Canada border to examine the second David Steinberg Show. This iteration followed the model of The Jack Benny Program or The Muppet Show, in which the show mostly followed the behind-the-scenes adventures of David as he prepared to make “The David Steinberg Show.” For example, in the episode I viewed, the majority of the program, David is attempting to woo Robert Vaughn (he played one of The Magnificent Seven) to be on his show but makes some promises that he’s unable to keep. While we do see some of the show-within-the-show, the majority of the episode is focused on the backstage shenanigans that occur while trying to keep his guest happy. READ MORE

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The Many Beginnings of 'All in the Family'

132 - AllintheFamily
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 the late 1960s Norman Lear was making a comfortable living as a director of reasonably successful films. By the end of that decade, Lear had become driven with a singular goal: he had a vision of a television show, inspired by a British show Till Death Do Us Part that he read an article about in Variety, about a bigoted, curmudgeonly father and his relationship with his more liberal son-in-law. It took three tries shooting the same script, each time with cast changes, title changes, and piles of network notes until it stuck, but when it did, it became a phenomenon. Today we look back at the three pilot episodes of All in the Family and the launching of a television empire.

The first version of Lear’s script, entitled And Justice For All, was shot in New York on September 3rd, 1968 and much of what would appear in the final version of the series is present here. Most importantly, at it’s center, Carrol O’Connor was there as Archie Bunker from the very beginning. Well, basically. In this incarnation he plays Archie Justice, hence the title. According to Lear’s recently released memoir, Even This I Get to Experience, Carrol’s casting almost didn’t happen, as impossible as it is to imagine someone else in the role. Lear briefly flirted with putting Mickey Rooney in the role. However, the pitch didn’t get much further than “You play a bigot-” before Rooney cut him off with a fantastic Old Hollywood response: “Norm, they’re going to kill you, shoot you dead in the streets. You want to do a TV show with the Mick, listen to tis: Vietnam vet. Private eye. Short Blind. Large dog.” READ MORE