News from the Archive

Ellen Comes out: "The Puppy Episode" Turns 20!

April 30th, 2017
Ellen

TV Land ranked it as the only television episode to garner a 10/10 in historical significance, and it came in at #21 on their list of Top 100 Sitcom Episodes of All Time. TV Guide listed it at #35 of The 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time. "The Puppy Episode" of Ellen, in which lead character Ellen Morgan, played by Ellen DeGeneres, comes out as a lesbian, first aired on April 30, 1997 on ABC. It was the first network TV sitcom to have an openly gay lead character.

Prior to Ellen, broadcast television had dabbled in storylines about homosexuality. The 1972 ABC Movie of the Week That Certain Summer focused on the relationship between partners Doug Salter (Hal Holbrook) and Gary McClain (Martin Sheen) and was the first television movie to bring a homosexual relationship to the forefront. Billy Crystal's Jodie Dallas on the 1977 series Soap was openly gay, yet a supporting character. 1981's Love, Sidney featured Tony Randall playing Sidney Shorr, a gay man living with friend Laurie and her daughter, but the series avoided mention of Sidney's personal life and largely only hinted at his sexual orientation. With "The Puppy Episode," Ellen Morgan became the first broadcast, prime-time, sitcom character to openly discuss her homosexuality, and also have it woven into subsequent storylines in the show.

There was quite a build-up in the weeks leading up to the hour-long episode, which coincided with DeGeneres' real-life revelation about her own sexuality. Oprah Winfrey guest-starred on the show as Ellen's therapist, Laura Dern as Ellen's crush Susan, and Steven Eckholdt as Ellen's college buddy, Richard.

"The Puppy Episode" aired in Season 4 and took some effort to get on the air. In the summer of 1996, DeGeneres told Disney Executive Dean Valentine that she wanted her character to come out:

According to Disney Exec Michael Eisner, he, too had a conversation with DeGeneres, and shares his take on the episode and remainder of the series:

Valentine explains the production process on "The Puppy Episode" once the decision was made to have Ellen Morgan come out:

Ellen lasted for one more season after "The Puppy Episode" aired, ending in 1998. DeGeneres began hosting talk-show Ellen: The Ellen Degeneres Show in 2003, which is syndicated nationally and still going strong. Sometimes Oprah appears as a guest on that show, too.

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Soap Opera Stars and Creators

April 28th, 2017

In honor of the 44th Daytime Emmy Awards, the Archive salutes the stars and creators of some of the most popular and enduring soap operas of all time with our latest Google Cultural Institute exhibit. Hear stories from Susan Lucci, Anthony Geary, Genie Francis, Agnes Nixon, and more!

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Television Academy Foundation & Emerson College Announce New Partnership

April 27th, 2017
Emerson LogoTVAFoundationLogo

Emerson College and the Television Academy Foundation Partner to Bring Emerson’s American Comedy Archives Online with the Foundation’s Comprehensive Interview Collection

—Interviews with Betty White (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls) and Kevin Bright (Friends, In Living Color) help kick off this initiative to digitize interviews with comedy greats—

BOSTON, MA (April 27, 2017)—Emerson College and the Television Academy Foundation today announced a partnership that will make Emerson’s American Comedy Archives available to audiences worldwide through the Foundation’s renowned online oral history archive, “The Interviews: An Oral History Project of the Television Academy Foundation,” a collection of more than 850 comprehensive conversations with television innovators and legends. The Television Academy Foundation and Emerson’s Center for Comedic Arts will also produce new interviews, which will provide unique content and enhance existing conversations.  

Emerson’s interviews with Emmy®   Award winner Betty White (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls), late actor Pat Harrington, Jr. (One Day at a Time, The Steve Allen Show), and programming executive and Emerson alumnus and Trustee Doug Herzog (MTV, Comedy Central, Viacom) have been digitized by the Foundation and are available now at http://emmytvlegends.org/AmericanComedyArchivesatEmersonCollege. Additionally, the first of the newly co-produced interview collection features Emmy Award-winning producer Kevin Bright (Friends, In Living Color), an Emerson alumnus, Trustee, and the founding director of Emerson’s Los Angeles campus.

The American Comedy Archives was established at Emerson College in 2005, with support from the late Emerson Trustee Emeritus, alumnus, and arts philanthropist Ted Cutler. The project was spearheaded by Emerson alumnus and comedian Bill Dana, who conducted many of the interviews for the collection. According to Dana, head writer for The Steve Allen Show and several other comedy classics, the creation of the American Comedy Archives was a labor of love.

“When we sat down to conduct interviews for the archives, people were incredibly generous with their time. They weren't there to promote a particular project; they were there to share more about themselves, what drew them to comedy, and their path to working in the industry," said Dana. “We achieved what we had hoped for and more in creating the comedy archives at Emerson and that is providing rich, in-depth interviews with comedy legends from the stage and screen who all had something important to say about their craft.” 

 “We are thrilled to partner with Emerson on expanding our world-renowned, award-winning collection of ‘The Interviews’ for students, researchers, journalists and television fans to enjoy and share,” said Madeline Di Nonno, chair of the Television Academy Foundation. “The stories shared in these fascinating conversations add tremendous insights and candor, spotlighting our rich and vast television history.”

 “Emerson has a long and celebrated history in comedic arts, including many alumni who have contributed to all aspects of the genre. We are delighted to partner with the Television Academy Foundation to create an online platform that honors comedic arts and a multitude of talented comedy performers, writers, producers, and directors,” said Emerson College President Lee Pelton. “Comedy holds up a mirror on society and in today’s digital media landscape, it is more prevalent than ever in our daily lives. These newly digitized interviews will benefit our students, particularly those who are pursuing careers in comedy, and will serve as a vital resource beyond our campus community.”

Other compelling interviews in the American Comedy Archives collection to be digitized as part of the new partnership between Emerson and the Television Academy Foundation include Bob Newhart (The Bob Newhart Show); Dick Gregory (comedian), Emerson alumnus Norman Lear (All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude); and Barbara Feldon (Get Smart). A complete list of interviewees and transcripts are online.

About Emerson College

Based in Boston, Massachusetts, opposite the historic Boston Common and in the heart of the city’s Theatre District, Emerson College educates individuals who will solve problems and change the world through engaged leadership in the liberal arts, communication, and the arts. The College has approximately 3,500 undergraduates and 670 graduate students from across the United States and 50 countries. Supported by state-of-the-art facilities and a renowned faculty, students participate in more than 90 student organizations and performance groups. Emerson is known for its experiential learning programs at Emerson Los Angeles, located in Hollywood, and at its beautifully restored 14th-century castle in the Netherlands. Additionally, there are opportunities to study in Washington, DC, London, China, the Czech Republic, Spain, Austria, Greece, France, Ireland, Mexico, Cuba, England, and South Africa. The College has an active network of 37,000 alumni. For more information, visit emerson.edu.

About the Television Academy Foundation

Established in 1959 as the charitable arm of the Television Academy, the Television Academy Foundation is dedicated to preserving the legacy of television while educating and inspiring those who will shape its future. Through renowned educational outreach programs such as the College Television Awards, Student Internship Program, and Faculty Seminar, the Foundation seeks to widen the circle of voices our industry represents and to create more opportunity for television to reflect all of society. Founded in 1997, the Foundation’s Archive of American Television has grown into The Interviews: An Oral History of Television. Comprised of more than 850 oral history interviews (over 4000 hours) with the legends of television, the collection chronicles the birth and growth of American TV History as it evolves. New interviews are produced every year, covering a variety of professions, genres, and topics in electronic media history. For more information on the foundation, please visit TelevisionAcademy.com/Foundation. 

# # #

Media Contacts:

Carole McFall, carole_mcfall@emerson.edu, 617-824-8415

Michelle Gaseau, michelle_gaseau@emerson.edu, 617-824-3547

Stephanie Goodell (breakwhitelight for the Television Academy), stephanie@breakwhitelight.com, 818-462-1150

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Remembering Albert Freedman

April 21st, 2017
Albert Freedman

We’re sad to learn that producer Albert Freedman passed away on April 11, 2017 at the age of 91. Freedman is best known as a producer of Twenty-One, one of the shows at the center of the Quiz Show Scandals. He started out as a writer and producer for radio, on audience participation shows like Earn Your Vacation and A Dollar A Minute. He soon transitioned to television, writing for The Pinky Lee Show and You Bet Your Life. Freedman began his association with Jack Barry and Dan Enright when he produced the quiz shows Juvenile Jury and Life Begins at Eighty in the mid-1950s. In addition to producing Barry & Enright's Twenty-One and booking the show’s most famous contestant, Charles Van Doren, Freedman also produced another Barry & Enright production, the game show Tic Tac Dough. When the Quiz Show Scandals broke, Freedman testified in the grand jury hearings in New York and again for the Harris subcommittee in Washington D.C. After a long absence in television, he returned to work - on KTLA's Paramount Television and Your Funny Funny Films.

Below are some excerpts from his 2000 Archive interview:

On Twenty-One contestant Charles Van Doren:

On the investigation into the Quiz Show Scandals:

On being indicted in the Quiz Show Scandals:

Watch Albert Freedman’s full Archive interview and read his obituary in The Hollywood Reporter

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Writer Sam Bobrick Was Always Doing Something Different

April 18th, 2017
Sam Bobrick

Television writer and producer Sam Bobrick is a man who likes adages. In his Archive of American Television interview, he admitted that he has bunches of them pasted up all over his house. One of his favorites is, “I found happiness when I gave up hope.” But the one that perhaps best sums up his career is, “If you’re not doing something different, you’re not doing anything at all.” Those are certainly words that Bobrick lived by. 

Never staying long with one show, Bobrick worked on everything from the purity of children’s television with Captain Kangaroo, to one of the most controversial shows of the ‘60s, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. But Bobrick would soon move on to something else, just like the adage recommends.

It led to an interesting interview that covered a wide array of series, sometimes surprising career choices, and run-ins with legendary personalities. Here are a few of our favorites.

• Sam Bobrick the Songwriter

Before Bobrick made his mark as a television writer, he tried his hand at songwriting. And while most aspiring composers toil for years without having a big hit, Bobrick and his first writing partner, Beverly Ross, topped the charts right out of the gate when Elvis Presley recorded their tune, “The Girl of My Best Friend.” Bobrick also went on to write two Mad Magazine albums that have become cult classics. 

• Sam Bobrick in Mayberry

After leaving songwriting behind, Bobrick and his new television writing partner, Bill Idelson, pitched an idea to The Andy Griffith Show. The premise was simple — bumbling Deputy Sherriff Barney Fife poses as a store mannequin to catch a thief. With their first script, they penned a classic TV episode and won a Writers Guild Award for Episodic Comedy.

• Sam Bobrick Sidesteps Controversy on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

Bobrick joined the writing staff of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in Season 2 and was soon partnered with Ron Clark. Bobrick remembers the show as having wild sketches, but with bits that parents and kids could watch together. Since Bobrick and Clark left the show before the final season, Bobrick acknowledged that they were able to sidestep a lot of the ensuing controversy. 

• Sam Bobrick’s Dinner with Groucho 

Throughout his career, Bobrick worked with many television and film icons. But for him, one of the highlights was meeting Groucho Marx while Bobrick was a head writer on Kraft Music Hall. He and Clark would occasionally write celebrity roasts for the series. When Groucho Marx was set to sit on the dais, Bobrick and Clark couldn’t resist asking the comedy legend out for dinner. While the night was one of Bobrick’s most memorable, Groucho had already forgotten his two dinner companions by the time breakfast rolled around the next morning.

• Sam Bobrick Creates Good Morning, Miss Bliss

Few writers ever realize the Hollywood dream of creating a hit show. Fewer still see that series go on to launch a string of spin-offs. So when Peter Engel approached Bobrick about helping him create a show about kids in high school, he didn’t expect it would launch one of TV’s best-loved teen shows. Good Morning, Miss Bliss lasted just one season on the Disney Channel and Bobrick only wrote the pilot episode. But NBC chief Brandon Tartikoff picked up the canceled series and brought it to Saturday morning TV on the peacock network with a new name — Saved by the Bell. The revamped series ran for four seasons, launched two spin-offs (Saved by the Bell: The College Years and Saved by the Bell: The New Class and spawned two TV movies (Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style and Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas.) 

Enjoy Sam Bobrick's full interview here!

- by Pop Culture Passionistas

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