News from the Archive

Presidents' Day!

February 15th, 2018

Celebrate Presidents' Day with our Google Cultural Institute exhibit: American Presidential Inaugurations. Hear stories from the people who reported on inaugurations and inaugural balls, and those who worked on them behind the scenes. This exhibit is part of Google's American Democracy Project

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Your Favorite TV Couples!

February 14th, 2018

Sometimes a couple just has chemistry. You can't always define exactly why two people fit together so perfectly, but you can almost see the sparks fly when halves so seamlessly make a whole. Luckily for all of us, television has provided many of these terrific twosomes over the years -- couples that we can't wait to see argue and make up, scheme and fall flat, or visit with nosy neighbors. TV's power couples make us want to tune in week after week, or daily, if applicable, to watch magic happen over and over again.

Throughout the years we've been privileged to interview some of television's favorite couples. And although their on-screen romances didn't carry over into real life, these couples still displayed an awful lot of love and respect for each other when out of character. Have a look for yourself:

Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford, The Jeffersons' George and Weezy:

Anthony Geary and Genie Francis, soap opera super-couple Luke and Laura of General Hospital:

Tom Bosley and Marion Ross, Mr. and Mrs. C (Cunningham) on Happy Days:

And last but not least, Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, Rob and Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show:

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! May you all find the George to your Weezy!

- by Adrienne Faillace

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THE MOST INFLUENTIAL TELEVISION EPISODES BY DECADE - 1970s

February 1st, 2018
Carroll-O'Connor

John Dalton continues with his picks for the most influential television episodes of each decade. Today we focus on his selection from the 1970s.

All in the Family - “Judging Books by Covers” Airdate February 9, 1971 (Rerun May 11, 1971)

 

 

As Norman Lear told us in his interview, All in the Family didn’t make much of an impact when it first appeared as a mid-season replacement in the dead of winter, 1971. I believe this slow start worked to the show’s advantage. It was able to cover controversial topics and use language never before heard on television while there were so few watching that there weren’t many complaints. By the time large numbers of people were tuning in, the show had garnered sufficient critical praise and Emmy nominations that it could better weather content concerns.

In its initial 13 episodes, All in the Family covered several controversial topics, but really only one that was taboo on television. There hadn’t been an openly homosexual character on any American television show, ever. Outside of news broadcasts, the topic wasn’t discussed. Gay people were invisible. That changed on February 9, 1971 with the episode “Judging Books by Covers.”

Archie suspects that Mike and Gloria’s friend Roger (played by Anthony Geary, who later played Luke on General Hospital) is gay, and makes his discomfort at having him in the house known. Archie escapes to the neighborhood bar, where he watches the fights with the guys, including his vital, strapping blue-collar buddy Steve. In the heat of an argument over Roger, Mike later lets it be known to Archie that, while Roger may or may not be gay, his buddy Steve most definitely is. Archie returns to Kelsey’s Bar, and during an arm wrestling match, Steve confirms his sexuality, much to Archie’s shock and confusion. It is a perfect, half-hour episode of television that pulls no punches. Archie talks about gay men the way a blue-collar man in 1971 would. I doubt the episode could air as is on CBS today.

I mentioned the rerun date in the first sentence above because that was the evening that a very important person tuned in, and felt compelled to chat about it with his closest advisors. The Watergate tapes of May 13, 1971 (two days after the episode aired for the second time) have Richard M. Nixon claiming to have stumbled upon a “movie” on CBS. According to the then-President, this “movie” featured a “magnificent, handsome guy”, and a “stupid old fellow” who “looks like Jackie Gleason” and has a “hippie son-in-law” married to a “screwball daughter.”

Nixon’s account of the episode is detailed, until finally he says, “I turned the goddamned thing off. I couldn’t listen anymore!” The implication that he’d shut it off in disgust is strange because he seems to know what happened right up until minute 29. He opines that watching this “movie” could damage children, and that they’d “cleverly” cast a “magnificent, virile guy” to play a homosexual to make it seem acceptable. President Nixon’s comments, and the kind of language he used to express them, could easily have come from Archie Bunker himself.

Norman Lear wouldn’t be privy to Nixon’s musings until 31 years after the episode first aired. Upon hearing the tape, Lear had what I consider to be a pretty astute take on it. Because the May 1971 rerun of “Judging Books by Covers” aired at time when All in the Family was on its way to being the number one show in America, because it finally opened the door for gay characters on television, and because it caught the attention of President Nixon and prompted a ten-minute lecture from him, I chose it as the most influential television episode of the 1970s. About a year later, the made-for-television movie That Certain Summer, about a man coming out to this family, aired on ABC to critical acclaim and good ratings. In 1974, Richard M. Nixon would leave office in disgrace. Archie Bunker remained on the air until the fall of 1983. Point: Norman Lear.

- John Dalton

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Black History Month!

February 1st, 2018

We're celebrating Black History Month with our latest Google Cultural Institute exhibit!

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THE MOST INFLUENTIAL TELEVISION EPISODES BY DECADE - 1960s

January 25th, 2018
The Beverly Hillbillies

John Dalton continues with his picks for the most influential television episodes by decade. Today we focus on his selection from the 1960s.

The Beverly Hillbillies - “The Giant Jackrabbit” Airdate January 8, 1964

The Beverly Hillbillies took television by storm in September of 1962. The rags-to-riches story of a poor backwoods family striking oil and moving to Beverly Hills proved irresistible to viewers, and it was the number one show on television right out of the gate. Critics, however, weren’t as kind as the Nielson ratings. The New York Times called the show “strained and unfunny,” while Variety deemed it “painful to sit through.”

To be clear, I like The Beverly Hillbillies. Creator Paul Henning was a talented writer and producer who knew how to make good television. His cast was a group of fine comedic performers, particularly Irene Ryan, who brought the very best of vaudeville to the character of Granny. If the show still holds up today at all (and much of it does,) it’s because of Ryan, and Buddy Ebsen who played Uncle Jed. Their timing was impeccable.

That said, taken all around, I believe the worst decade for television was the ‘60s, and this episode of The Beverly Hillbillies is, in a certain way, partly to blame. If you take out sporting events, “The Giant Jackrabbit” is astoundingly the sixteenth most watched show of all time. 23 million households (which translated to around 50 million individual viewers) and 65% of all televisions were tuned in. Remove special events like movies or miniseries, it’s number six of all time. Take series finales from the picture, and it is the number two most watched show of all time. And remember, this was a regular, run-of-the-mill episode with no births, no deaths, and no special guest stars. Granny finds a giant kangaroo, which she mistakes for a giant jackrabbit. It’s the kind of premise Newton Minow may have had in mind when he made his “vast wasteland” speech.  

At first glance, these numbers are baffling, and it seems to be a random event. But when you put it in the context of the time that it aired, it starts to make sense. The beginning of 1964 was a difficult time in America. President Kennedy had been assassinated six weeks earlier, and the American public was looking for some pure escapism. The Beatles invasion helped provide it, and so did television. The Beverly Hillbillies has nothing to do with reality, and at its best provided several belly laughs per episode. All of the show’s episodes from that that period are currently on the top 60 most watched programs of all time list, according to the Nielsen rankings.

While funny, the show wasn’t exactly what you’d call intellectually stimulating. Paul Henning was no Paddy Chayefsky, and of course, he was never trying to be. Unfortunately, I think executives and programmers took the wrong lesson from those blockbuster ratings. This (and the success of other shows like it at the time) led to a decidedly subpar decade of programming on networks. Playhouse 90, The Twilight Zone, and Kraft Television Theatre were all gone. Shows like My Mother the Car, Occasional Wife, and My Living Doll took their place. Writing on television suffered in the ‘60s. Quality, with some notable exceptions, went on hiatus. Lucky for us, Norman Lear and James L. Brooks were waiting in the wings.

- John Dalton

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