Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Platinum Age of Television


National Public Radio's Television critic David Bianculli has written an excellent, expansive book that is very detailed when it comes to looking at the history of Television. The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific examines all genres of TV, starting in the earliest days of the medium, the late-1940s/early 1950s. This is a long book. The audio version of it is 24 hours in length!

One of the most pivotal and influential shows from the early days of television was NBC's weekly sketch comedy show, Your Show of Shows (1950-54). Like Saturday Night Live, this was a weekly 90 minute comedy show that was broadcast live. Unlike SNL, no prompter of cue cards were there to help the stars to recall their lines. Key players in the show were Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris and more. Writers included Neil Simon and Mel Brooks.

The chapters in the book are broken down by TV genres, such as western, soap operas, miniseries, drama, medical, crime, comedy, and more. There are several chapters looking at different types of situation comedies, such as family comedies (The Cosby Show or Family Ties), work comedies (Cheers or Taxi), family/work comedies or "split-coms" as Bianculli called them (The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show), and comedies headed up by unmarried females (Murphy Brown, The Mary Tyler Moore Show).

The book has in-depth profiles of important people in TV such as Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Bob Newhart, Norman Lear, Carol Burnett, Louis CK, Larry Wilmore, James L. Brooks, Matt Groening and others.

Bianculli feels that the platinum age of television is from about 1998 until now. There are many more avenues for viewing TV, such as countless cable networks, Netflix, Hulu, You Tube, Amazon video, etc. Many times the best shows are not coming from ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox, but from HBO, FX, IFC, AMC and other fringe networks. Look at the abundance of outstanding TV shows that we have seen over the past 20 years or so: Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Portlandia, Louie, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Wire and many more. I think that at one point, there was a stigma against working in TV. Film stars looked down on TV stars. But that is not the case anymore. Some of the very best writing, acting and technical feats are coming from the small screen.

I liked how the chapters were organized, by TV genre. One can skip chapters with no loss in continuity. I skipped chapters on westerns and crime dramas since I do not like those type of shows. My only criticism is that there is no chapter looking at the rich history of late night TV, from pioneers like Steve Allen and Ernie Kovacs, to current stars like Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Tommy Dorsey: Jazz Superstar


Tommy Dorsey had a brief life, but during those years he accomplished a lot in the world of jazz. He was born in 1905 and died in 1956, at the age of 51. Tommy and his brother Jimmy were both successful jazz band leaders. The two brothers performed together often, until a falling out in 1935. The two did not speak to each other for many years. By 1953, the Dorsey Brothers took on television projects, including working with Jackie Gleason.

Over the years, many legendary performers were part of Dorsey's band, including Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra (1940-1942), Nelson Riddle, Doc Severinsen, Louie Bellson, Buddy Rich and more. It was said that Frank Sinatra learned breath control after watching Dorsey's technique on the trombone. Between 1941 and 1951, Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra appeared in ten films. He had an incredible amount of Billboard hits, numbering 286, with 17 number one hits in the 1930s and 1940s. Dorsey was known as a perfectionist with a short temper. He would "steal" performers that he liked from other bands and put them in his own. He was married three times.

A prime example of a Tommy Dorsey big band classic can be seen here. The song "Well Git It" was a showcase for Dorsey's collection of talented performers. The song had a drum solo, a clarinet solo, a solo featuring dueling pianos and alternating trumpet solos. The vitality of this music made it exciting and contagious for listeners. Buddy Rich performed this song on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, with Doc Severinsen and the band.

*Information from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommy_Dorsey and https://www.biography.com/people/tommy-dorsey-9277676.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Entertainment's Renaissance Man: Quincy Jones


We have all heard the phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none." Many times that is true. People should focus on being great at one thing. But, there are some people who are exceptions to the rule. Quincy Jones is just such a person. The versatility of his talents is staggering. Few have achieved more in the world of entertainment, with excellence achieved in many disciplines.

Quincy is best known for his musical talents. In 1953 at age 20, he toured with jazz great Lionel Hampton as a trumpet player, pianist and arranger. He arranged music for some of the biggest names in entertainment, including Ray Charles, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and even Frank Sinatra. His ear for music led him to produce some groundbreaking songs such as the 1985 charity song We are the World. He produced albums for Michael Jackson including Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982) and Bad (1987).

He was the founder of Vibe magazine and he had his own TV production company which produced Mad TV, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and others. He was the co-producer of the film The Color Purple. He won a Tony Award for the Broadway revival of that production.

Jones has been awarded ten honorary doctorate degrees. He is only one of 17 people to have won an Emmy, a Grammy an Oscar and a Tony Award. As a matter of fact, he has won 27 Grammys! At age 84 he is still tacking new challenges as a producer for various projects. In 2001 he released his autobiography. Always one to keep up with the latest technology, he launched his own podcast in 2007.

Here is a clip of the 2001 Kennedy Center Honors. Jones was recognized for his work, where he was treated by a performance that brought together Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles.

Jones' net worth is an estimated $400 million.

* Information from quincyjones.com and celebritynetworth.com

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

More Classic Shows Coming to Antenna TV



The following classic sitcoms are coming to the Antenna TV network in 2017.

Alice, aired from 1976-1985, starred Linda Lavin, Vic Tayback, Beth Howland.

Growing Pains, aired from 1985-1992, starred Alan Thicke, Joanna Kerns, Kirk Cameron.

227, aired from 1985-1990, starred Marla Gibbs and Jackee Harry.

The Hogan Family, aired from 1986-1991, starred Sandy Duncan and Jason Bateman.

Head of the Class, aired from 1986-1991, starred Howard Hesseman and Robin Givens.

My Two Dads, aired from 1987-1990, starred Greg Evigan and Paul Reiser.

Becker, aired from 1998-2004, starred Ted Danson and Shawnee Smith.

Murphy Brown, aired from 1988-1998, starred Candice Bergen and Faith Ford.

What's Happening, aired from 1976-1979, starred Ernest Thomas, Haywood Nelson, Fred Berry.

This is a smart move. The network currently airs many classic shows such as Johnny Carson, All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Family Ties, Wings and Newhart.





Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Here's Johnny, Seven Nights Per Week!





What a pleasure it is to have the late night master Johnny Carson on the air again. On January 1, 2016, the Antenna TV network started airing his shows. Monday through Friday the shows are 60 minutes, made between 1980 and 1992. On Saturday and Sunday, the shows are 90 minutes, aired from 1972 to 1980. It has been amazing to revisit these shows from Johnny. It makes one realize how good he was at his craft. He was a top notch stand up comedian of course, but he also shined as an interviewer and as a comic actor with his Mighty Carson Art Players segments. We have been able to see segments featuring his characters such as Carnac, Art Fern, Floyd R. Turbo and Aunt Blabby. At Johnny's side is the number one second banana, Ed McMahon. Doc and the band sound fantastic as usual. We have seen several episodes with David Letterman. For years, we figured that Letterman was the heir apparent to Carson. Unfortunately Jay Leno filled Carson's spot in 1992 when Johnny stepped down. But, Dave turned out ok, with a 33 year career in late night.

It has been a special treat to see some of the all time legends of show biz on the air again. Johnny's guest list read like a who's who of Hollywood with guests like George Burns, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Jack Benny, Rodney Dangerfield and many more.

I only have one complaint with these Carson episodes on Antenna TV. There have been very few musical guests and few performances by Doc and the band. People are speculating that the reason behind this is costs that have to do with music licensing. The royalties need to be paid through music agencies like BMI and ASACAP when these shows are re-aired. We have seen more musical performances in the second half of the year than in the first half, so hopefully that is a good sign. Antenna TV is probably doing well ratings-wise with the show, which would expand the budget for airing musical acts.

Antenna TV is tight-lipped regarding ratings numbers, but I have a hunch that they are pleased with the response to the show. Folks of all generations can experience the magic of Carson.

Carson fans will want to check out this Facebook fan page, dedicated to Johnny. At the beginning of 2016, it had 100 members. Now it has over 2700. No doubt the Antenna TV airings have increased the interest in the late night icon.