Monday, March 23, 2015

More Late Night TV Changes

Tonight is the premiere of British comic James Corden as the fourth host of the CBS Late Late Show. Last year we saw the debut of Jimmy Fallon as the new host of NBC's The Tonight Show after Jay Leno left. We also had announcements of David Letterman leaving CBS later this year and Stephen Colbert taking over that coveted slot. The CBS Late Late Show has followed Letterman's program since 1995. Tom Snyder was the host from 1995-1999. Craig Kilborn then hosted the show from 1999-2004. The last host was Scottish comic Craig Ferguson from 2005-2014.

Since the arrival of Letterman in 1993, CBS has had a strong comedy presence in late night. For decades, NBC ruled late night with Johnny Carson's show, and the other networks struggled to keep up. The other networks and syndicators tried to compete with Carson with shows hosted by Dick Cavett, Joey Bishop, Pat Sajak, Merv Griffin, Magic Johnson, Chevy Chase, Arsenio Hall and more. From 1972-1989, CBS aired the late movie after the late local news. This started after the cancellation of Merv Griffin's attempt at a late night show. CBS tried various shows during late night such as their Crimetime After Primetime from 1991-1993. This lineup featured various crime shows such as Sweating Bullets, Scene of the Crime, Silk Stalkings, Forever Knight, Fly By Night and more. From 1992-1995, CBS aired Lorne Michaels' sketch show The Kids in the Hall on Friday nights.

* Some information from

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Carson's Cash

In 1979, Johnny Carson was burned out. He had hosted The Tonight Show on NBC since 1962. His lawyer Henry Bushkin told the head of NBC, Fred Silverman, that he wanted out of his contract. A court case ensued and Carson was wooed by ABC. Eventually, Johnny reconciled with NBC and a new contract was signed. The deal turned out to be one of the most lucrative agreements in TV history. NBC knew that Carson's show was a cash cow for the network, so they would do whatever was necessary to keep him. The deal paid a staggering $25 million per year. Johnny had 15 weeks off per year and only had to work three shows per week. His show was trimmed from 90 minutes to 60 minutes. He also would have ownership of his show and the show following his which turned out to be Late Night with David Letterman. This turned out to be a lucrative part of the deal since Carson Productions would earn money from any airings of Johnny's show and Dave's show. Letterman secured a similar deal in 1993 when he signed with CBS. His production company, Worldwide Pants, owns the Letterman show and the show following his, The Late Late Show. That show has been hosted by Tom Snyder, Craig Kilborn and Craig Ferguson. Later this month, the fourth host will take over, James Corden.
Information from the book Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Life Imitates Art in Less Than Zero

Generation X folks may recall the film Less Than Zero, from 1987. Released in the midst of the light hearted fare of this period like the John Hughes films, this story was dark and moody. It is based on a book written by Bret Easton Ellis. He also wrote the novel that became the film American Psycho, the twisted tale of 1980's Wall Street yuppie Patrick Bateman. That film was a big break for Christian Bale. Less Than Zero starred Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz, Robert Downey Jr. and James Spader. Downey Jr. played a guy who was battling drug addiction, which mirrored his own life. The movie was a profile of spoiled rich kids from L.A. who learned the hard way about the pitfalls of substance abuse. The soundtrack featured some of the hottest groups of the day such as The Bangles, Poison, Aerosmith, David Lee Roth and more. It's interesting that the music supervisor was Rick Rubin. He was the co-founder of Def Jam records along with Russell Simmons. It's no coincidence that many of the Def Jam artists are featured on the Less Than Zero soundtrack. These included Slayer, Public Enemy, LL Cool J and Run-DMC.

*Some information from

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

TV History Profile: Fred Silverman

TV executive Fred Silverman worked for all of the major broadcast networks in the 1970s and made his mark on the history of television.

As the head of the programming department at CBS, in 1971 he called for the purge of all of the rural shows. These included Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, Hee Haw and Mayberry RFD. He was behind many spin-off shows such as Maude and The Jeffersons, which were based on characters from All in the Family.

At ABC, Silverman developed The Love Boat, Eight is Enough, Three's Company, Fantasy Island and the groundbreaking miniseries, Roots, based on the Alex Haley novel.

In 1978 he became the president of NBC. He discovered the talents of David Letterman and gave him his own morning show in 1980. The show was critically acclaimed and won an Emmy. But the ratings were poor and the morning was not a good time slot for Dave's quirky humor. In 1982, Letterman moved his show to 12:35 am, following Johnny Carson. he hosted his Late Night show until 1993, when he left for CBS. Silverman was not a fan of Tom Snyder's Tomorrow show, which followed Carson for many years. Silverman and Carson had a rocky relationship, and at one point, Johnny came close to leaving the network. Fred wanted the original host of the Tonight Show to return to the network. His desire was to have Steve Allen follow Johnny Carson's show, but that never happened. At NBC, Silverman developed memorable sitcoms such as Diff'rent Strokes, The Facts of Life and Gimme a Break. He had some failures at the peacock network as well, with the development of flops like Hello Larry, The Big Show, Pink Lady and Jeff, and Supertrain. He was also in charge during the period where Lorne Michaels left as the executive producer of Saturday Night Live.

Click here for an interview with Fred Silverman as he looks back on the accomplishments during his career.

* Information from and

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

TV History Tuesday: Hail Caesar!

One of the biggest hits in the earliest days of TV was Your Show of Shows. It starred Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca and aired on NBC from 1950-1954. This program was a 90 minute live show with no cue cards and no teleprompter. No improvising was allowed, they stuck to the script. The show had an impressive group of writers including Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks and Neil Simon. Reiner established an impressive career in entertainment, working as a writer/creator/director. He created the Dick Van Dyke show, and he directed many films, including The Jerk with Steve Martin and Oh God with George Burns. In his later shows, Sid Caesar hired more writing all-stars such as Woody Allen and Larry Gelbart (creator of MASH). From 1954-1957, Sid Caesar hosted a TV show called Caesar's Hour. In subsequent years he appeared with many TV legends including Jackie Gleason, Carol Burnett, Steve Allen, Lucille Ball and many others. He died in 2014 at the age of 91. He was truly one of the pioneers of television, and he influenced legions of comics for decades to come.

*Information from

Friday, March 06, 2015

Looking Back on Must See TV

These days there seems to be an overabundance of reality and crime dramas on TV. I miss the days of the sitcoms, like in the time of NBC's Must See TV programming. The peacock network thrived with shows like The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court, Frasier and more. The period of NBC's ratings dominance has been outlined in a book by their former head of entertainment, Warren Littlefield. The book is called "Top of the Rock-Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV".

Littlefield was portrayed in the show Seinfeld by the character actor Bob Balaban, who voiced the audio version of the book.

This book has many facts about the TV shows that we all grew to love on NBC. Here are a few of the interesting tidbits from the book.

Cheers started out slow, ratings-wise, in 1982, but grew into a cash cow for the network. John Lithgow was considered for the role of Frasier. That is hard to believe now since Kelsey Grammer is known for playing this character for 20 years, spanning 2 shows. During the taping of Cheers, the cast needed to have an intervention with Grammer to address his substance abuse issues.

When the show Seinfeld was being launched in 1989, Rosie O'Donnell and Megan Mullally tried out for the role of Elaine, which of course went to Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Seinfeld was unselfish on the show. He wanted his co-stars to shine. He was the co-creator of the show, along with Larry David, but he did not insist on all of the best lines for himself. At its peak, the network would charge $800,000 for a 30 second spot.

In 1992, Mad About You premiered on NBC. Paul Reiser had starred previously on the sitcom My Two Dads with Greg Evigan (BJ and the Bear). The lead female role of Jamie went to Helen Hunt, but Teri Hatcher and Valerie Bertinelli were also considered.

In 1994, Littlefield knew that NBC had to find a show to replace LA Law at 10 pm. He decided to put the show ER on the air, with the strong ensemble cast. This show would make stars out of George Clooney, Noah Wyle, Julianna Marguiles, and others. CBS went head-to-head against ER with their own medical drama, Chicago Hope. ER came out the winner, and would air on NBC for 15 years. Shooting a one hour medical drama was grueling for the cast and crew. Often they would work 14-17 hour days, covering 8-10 pages of script each day. The cast said that they had a hard time enjoying the ride since they were working all of the time.

Thursday night was like a money machine for NBC. The one night generated more revenue from advertising than all other 6 nights combined. All of this money enabled NBC to expand their reach into cable TV, with the launch of CNBC and MSNBC, as well as sports programming.

Under the leadership of Littlefield, the network launched the quirky comedy 3rd Rock from the Sun. John Lithgow starred in the show as the alien patriarch, Dick Solomon. Lithgow had worked in many films, including The World According to Garp, with Robin Williams. French Stewart, Jane Curtin, Kristin Johnston and Joseph Gordon Levitt were the co-stars of 3rd Rock.

Just Shoot Me became part of the Must See TV lineup, starring David Spade. This was created by Steven Levitan, who also developed the current ABC hit, Modern Family.

In 1998, Will and Grace became a hit for NBC. With a 30 minute sitcom, the cast only worked 3 hours per day. The writing was so strong that it was an easy project. Over a period of 8 years on the air, every episode was directed by James Burrows. He is known as the master sitcom director, with 10 primetime Emmy wins under his belt. He has directed the shows Taxi, Cheers, The Bob Newhart Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, NewsRadio, Mike and Molly and more. The book mentioned his impeccable comic instincts that make him a top notch director for TV. Will and Grace attracted 18-19 million viewers per week.

Friends director James Burrows knew that the show would be a hit even before it hit the air. He took the 6 members of the ensemble cast to Vegas for a weekend to gamble and have a good time. They flew on the NBC corporate jet. This was before anyone knew the cast, and he told them to enjoy their last moments of anonymity. How right he was.

Littlefield did not hold back in the book as far as his distaste for some of his fellow TV executives. He was especially harsh on Don Ohlmeyer, who fired him from his NBC position. He was also very critical of Jeff Zucker, who took over for Littlefield after his departure. He said that Zucker did not have a love for the medium of TV. He only cared about making money. Zucker cared about manipulating viewers, not nourishing them. He was ousted in 2011 when Comcast merged with NBC and cleaned house.

The book mentioned how much the broadcast TV landscape has changed over the past 15 years. Everything is fractured, with so much competition from cable and the internet. American Idol gets one third the audience of The Cosby Show and it is a smash. A challenge for TV executives is the fact that so many people are not watching shows live. Many are watching on a DVR, skipping through the commercials. Broadcast networks teamed up with their former cable adversaries, with ABC merging with Disney and ESPN.

This book is an excellent read for those who want to know about the inner workings of a successful TV network at its peak.

* Some material from