News from the Archive

Live From New York, It's G.E. Smith!

February 5th, 2016
G.E. Smith

I grew up worshiping Saturday Night Live. I loved me some Church Lady, some Wayne and Garth, some Hans & Franz. My sister and I used to dance around doing "Sprockets" while we cleared the dinner table. And nothing was better than watching that killer guitarist with the floppy blond hair rock out before a commercial break like he was having the time of his life. (I know you can picture him.) If you had told my tween self that I would one day get to interview that pony-tailed cool cat, I would have told you to get back in your time machine, Looney Tune, because you’re talkin’ crazy.

But that ACTUALLY HAPPENED. I had the supreme honor of sitting across from G.E. Smith, guitarist extraordinaire and former SNL music director, for about two-and-a-half hours while he shared stories and played his axe. And this guy has tales to tell. G.E. was at Woodstock, toured with Hall & Oates, played with Bob Dylan, wrote the theme music for "Wayne’s World" (which he played for us - check out the clip below!), and that’s just barely scratching the surface.

You can learn about all of that and why G.E. wanted to be one of the "cats" by watching his interview, but I wanted to share a few moments that happened before our chat that made me an even bigger fan of G.E. Smith, if that's possible.

1. He Has a True, Mad, Deep Appreciation For a Good Love Song

I arrived in New York the night before the interview and G.E. had a gig in town, so I went to hear him play. Man, can he play. If you ever have the chance to see him perform, go. You won’t regret it.

I went up and introduced myself after the show and we got to chatting. I was helping him carry his guitars when the Savage Garden song “Truly Madly Deeply” came on in the background. G.E. stopped and simply stated, “I love this song.” It’s a good song. And I love that G.E. loves it. This guy who has played with some of the greats just appreciates a song that hits the sweet spot. It’s a song that prior to that night always made me think of moving into my Freshman-year dorm because that tune was on the radio every ten seconds at that time. Now it makes me think of G.E. Smith. 

2. You’re Never High Enough

I always do an on-camera intro with an interviewee right before we begin, so as we were ready to roll I went over and crouched down next to G.E. I asked the videographer if I was high enough (to fit in the camera frame), and without missing a beat, G.E., smooth as silk, said, “You’re never high enough.” I burst out laughing and knew that the next few hours were going to be fun.

3. He’s Played Guitar with Emily Dickinson

As we sat down to start the interview, G.E. told me I look a bit like Emily Dickinson. He went on to explain that he loves Emily Dickinson and has guitar picks with her image on them. When people find them on-stage after one of his concerts, they get confused wondering if Dickinson played a gig at the venue.

So there ya go. G.E. Smith is an incredible musician with a love of great songs, great poets, and the high life. Do yourself a favor - postpone your binge watching for a night and treat yourself to G.E.'s interview. You’ll learn about musicality, honing a craft, and what Lorne Michaels' most impressive talent is (according to G.E., as successful as Michaels is at producing, he’s even more skilled at something else, if you can imagine that.) 

I'm off to go dance to "Sprockets" now. Later, cool cats.

Watch G.E. Smith's full Archive interview here.

- by Adrienne Faillace 

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Remembering Bob Elliott

February 3rd, 2016
Bob Elliott

We’re sad to learn that comedian Bob Elliott passed away from throat cancer on Tuesday, February 2, 2016, at the age of 92. Elliott and comedy partner Ray Goulding formed the comedy team “Bob and Ray” for local radio station WHDH in Boston back in 1946. The pair transitioned to network radio and subsequenty to television and were part of a hugely successful Piel's Beer advertising campaign, which led to dozens of other commercial endorsements over the years. They had a Broadway show, in which many of their most famous characters were honed, and appeared on multiple TV talk shows including The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Late Night with David Letterman (on which his son Chris Elliott worked as a writer and on-air talent). Elliott also appeared on Newhart, Happy Days, and Trapper John, M.D., and was a regular on son Chris Elliott's groundbreaking cult sitcom, Get a Life.

Below are some selections from his 2011 Archive interview:

On how “Bob and Ray” got their start:

We had no plans to be a team. In 1946 it just started and grew by itself. The station had been bought right at the end of the war by The Boston Herald and they put brand new studios in Copley Square in Boston and they got the ballgames. But they wanted something to get an audience before the ballgame that they could sell as premium time. So we had been kibitzing enough back and forth that the manager saw something in us and he said, “Would you like to do a show before the ballgames?” And we said, “Sure, we’ll do that, as well as play records." So we were on about 20 minutes before each day’s game.  

On Ray Goulding:

I had great admiration not only for his talent, no question about that, but just the friendship we had. When we went into the commercial business as a result of Piel’s, we had offices in New York and a studio of our own where could go, and had an engineer work for us. We could work out ideas on tape and so forth and Ray did a lot of that, same amount I did, so we worked together most of the work day, working in our commercial business and hiking across town to either CBS or Mutual and doing the radio show. Ray always walked a little bit faster than I do. We always walked to these places and I had to kind of keep up with him. He had six children in those years while I had five, and he loved kids. I’m sure he made his kids laugh more than I’ve made mine laugh. They may not tell you that, but it’s true. We didn’t realize it in time, but it was a connection that we just had. We were born with that. 

On what he hopes their legacy in the business will be:

As enjoyable people to look at and laugh at and respect and get some creative juice out of what we did by observing. I hear things that we did now and then, which every comedian/standup whatever has done. In rare times when people are doing comedy I’ll see a thing that I think was based on something we did. Ray and I always used to say, “I did everything on the radio 20 years before they did,” and he was about right. Don't forget my epitaph - write if you get work.

Watch Bob Elliott’s full Archive interview and read his obituary in The New York Times.

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Our Day with “Laverne” & “Shirley” - All Our Dreams Come True

January 27th, 2016
Cindy Williams and Penny Marshall

All our dreams came true one summer day when we got a call from the Archive of American Television asking us if we wanted to interview not just “Laverne” OR “Shirley” but “Laverne” AND “Shirley.” Together. In the same room. How could we say no?

We fell in love with “Laverne DeFazio” and “Shirley Feeney” from the first time they graced our TV screens on Happy Days. It all happened when “Laverne” asked uber-clean-cut “Richie Cunningham” about his hankie. “Is that for showin’ or for blowin’?” These were not the kind of girls that normally came into our living room in the quiet, still ‘50s-like suburb of Braintree, Massachusetts in 1975 — but we wished they were.

On January 27, 1976, our dreams came true when albeit softer versions of the tough-talking girls from the Shotz Brewery premiered their own series. Fittingly titled Laverne & Shirley, stars Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams were instantly embedded in our subconscious minds (along with That Girl and Mary Tyler Moore) reminding us that girls could be strong and independent and a little bit kooky. It was like they were directly telling us that it was okay to take any chance and break any rule. We were along for the ride, even after they moved to Burbank, California.

Three decades later, we’d make the move just like our favorite bottlecappers, settling into beautiful downtown Burbank and following our passions in the entertainment industry. Now those two little girls from the suburbs of Boston were going to sit across from their heroes from Milwaukee.

When the day came, Penny graciously welcomed us into her home. We sat down with Cindy first and talked about her early career acting in films like American Graffiti and The Conversation. We ended the day chatting with Penny about her life as the director of the movies Big and A League of Their Own. Each woman also gave their own take on how their most iconic TV series impacted them personally.

But the highlight of the day was when “Laverne” and “Shirley” sat down shoulder to shoulder and slipped right into that effortless banter we had watched so many times before, hunkered down way to close to our TV sets. Again, we hung on every word and tried not to giggle at everything they said. Cindy was a little more vulnerable, as “Shirley” tended to be. Penny, in true “Laverne” style, did not hold back. We had front row seats to our own private episode of our favorite childhood show … and now we get to share it with all of you on the 40th anniversary of the show's premiere. 

It was a long day that flew by way to quickly and while it’s practically impossible to choose the very best moments, there were a few highlights that really stand out.

Why They Just Might Owe Their Success to Little Richard

Penny and Cindy recounted the first time they met, on a double date at the Coconut Grove where they saw Liza Minnelli and Little Richard perform. Cindy explained how a chance backstage encounter with the “Architect of Rock 'n' Roll” just might have factored in to their ultimate success.

Where in the World Is “Boo Boo Kitty”?

Laverne & Shirley wouldn’t have been the hit it was without the cavalcade of wacky characters that often burst through the girls’ apartment door. No one could deny the contributions of “Lenny” and “Squiggy,” “Frank DeFazio,” “Edna Babish,” “Carmine ‘The Big Ragoo’ Ragusa.” But there was a silent co-star that often doesn’t get enough credit — “Boo Boo Kitty.” If you’ve wondered whatever happened to Shirley Feeney’s beloved stuffed animal, Cindy Williams reveals the answer.

The End of Laverne & Shirley

Like all good things, Laverne & Shirley came to an end in 1983. But for us, and many fans, the series was over when Cindy left just two episodes into the eighth and final season. In our interview, Penny talked about the aftermath of her co-star’s departure, the impact it had on the show, and the famous friends she brought in to try to keep the show alive.

Enjoy Penny Marshall and Cindy Willams' full interviews!

- by Amy and Nancy Harrington

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Spin-offs: The Good, The Bad, and "The Tortellis"

January 26th, 2016
The Tortellis

One thing remains constant in the ever-changing landscape of American Television: where there’s a successful series, there is always the possibility of a spin-off. The temptation to remove a supporting character and give him/her a series of their own is always strong. But it can be a dangerous proposition. You’re removing one of the elements that made the parent show a success, and television history is littered with failed spin-offs. But some succeed and in rare instances surpass the ratings of their parent show. Laverne & Shirley became the number one show on television in 1976, leaving Happy Days in its wake. The Tracey Ullman Show was cancelled in 1990, but its spin-off, The Simpsons, is still on the air 26 years later.

The concept of the spin-off wasn’t unique to television. An early example is when the radio program “Fibber McGee and Molly” spun-off the character of “Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve” for his own show, “The Great Gildersleeve.” It was a big hit with audiences. One of the first television spin-offs was The Andy Griffith Show, whose characters were first seen on The Danny Thomas Show. Later, The Andy Griffith Show itself spun-off both Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. and Mayberry R.F.D. 

Spin-off mania really took hold in the ‘70s. The three big parent shows of that decade were The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Happy Days, and All in the Family. All in the Family begat Maude (which begat Good Times), The Jeffersons (which begat Checking In), Archie Bunker’s Place, Gloria, and finally in 1994, 704 Hauser. Happy Days spun-off Laverne & Shirley, Blansky’s Beauties, Mork & Mindy, and Joanie Loves ChachiThe Mary Tyler Moore Show gave us Rhoda, Phyllis, and Lou Grant. Valerie Harper was hesitant to leave The Mary Tyler Moore Show, fearful of what might happen if Rhoda failed. Mary reassured her.

Valerie Harper was lucky. Rhoda was a hit, and she never looked back. Not as fortunate were Norman Fell and Audra Lindley, who were happy playing “Stanley Roper” and “Helen Roper,” the landlords on Three’s Company. ABC begged them to do a spin-off, and promised them they could return to their parent show if it didn’t work out. Well, The Ropers was not a hit with audiences. And the producers found that Don Knotts, who’d replaced Fell and Lindley, was a fan favorite on Three’s Company and didn’t require two salaries. The show lasted four more years, but “Stanley” and “Helen” were never heard from again, much to Fell and Lindley’s dismay.

Cheers would seem like a natural breeding ground for spin-offs with several supporting and recurring characters from which to choose. The producers resisted until 1987, when “Carla Tortelli’s” ex-husband “Nick” was given a show, The Tortellis. It lasted half a season. They had much better luck waiting until Cheers ended and giving Kelsey Grammer’s “Frasier Crane” his own show. Legendary television director James Burrows talked to us about the challenges of spinning-off a supporting character to his very own show.

Many times, it just doesn’t work out for even the most successful of parent shows. M*A*S*H ran for eleven years and was considered the gold standard for television comedy writing. When it ended in 1983, CBS decided to follow several M*A*S*H characters back to the states, where we found them working in a VA hospital. Creator Larry Gelbart discussed with us why AfterMASH never quite caught on with audiences.

Even the fabled “second Golden Age of Television” has spin-offs, with Breaking Bad giving us Better Call Saul and The Walking Dead begetting Fear the Walking Dead. The spin-off isn’t going away anytime soon.

For more fun discussions of spin-offs and their parent shows, spend an afternoon searching The Archive!

- by John Dalton 

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"Hill Street Blues" Turns 35 (And You Still Know The Theme Song By Heart)

January 15th, 2016
Hill Street Blues

It was a gritty cop show. It had one of the catchiest title songs of all time. And today it turns 35. MTM's police drama Hill Street Blues debuted on January 15, 1981, and we've been humming its unforegettable theme ever since.

The Hill Street Blues score was the work of composer Mike Post. Watch as he, co-creator Steven Bochco, and pilot director Robert Butler discuss the magic of the music.

Here's the famous title theme. WARNING: if you click below, you will likely have this tune in your head for the rest of the day.

Just exercise caution as you sing along. Let's be careful out there.

- by Adrienne Faillace

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