News from the Archive

A Talk with Kent McCray by Little House star Dean Butler

April 24th, 2018

It was such an honor for me to sit down with my friend and colleague, Kent McCray, for The Interviews: An Oral History of Television. As you will hear he is a most worthy subject. I first met Kent in May of 1979 after joining the cast of Little House on the Prairie. It was apparent from the start that there was something special about this series, based on the children’s novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Not only was the program a huge ratings success, with audiences regularly numbering 20 million people per week, but it was also beautifully produced on-screen and off. The offices, the set, and the post production operation ran like a fine Swiss watch. The show was always on or under budget, and everybody wanted to be a part of the show’s crew.

On any team, creative or otherwise, esprit de corps always starts at the top. That Michael Landon was among the elite hit-making, multi-talent television stars of his era is well known. Less known to the world at large was Michael’s singular creative partner, Kent McCray, who with his personality, taste, organizational skill, and passion for excellence freed Michael from the details of scheduling and budgeting; ensuring that productions ran smoothly, met deadlines, and stayed within budgets. 

As Kent’s archival interview will reveal, his deep love of production and storytelling dates back to his childhood in Hartford, Connecticut, where he first fell in love with radio drama. Following his college admittance to the Hartford School of Music he became the dedicated and fervently engaged apprentice of Dr. Elemer Nagy, who mentored Kent in every aspect of live opera production. Nagy’s teachings fundamentally transformed Kent’s life and gave him the knowledge that would serve as the rock-solid foundation of his rewarding career.

Kent’s career spanned the earliest days of live television through the dawn of the digital age, where he worked shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Red Skelton, Groucho Marx, Ralph Edwards, Bob Hope, and most enduringly with Michael Landon who called Kent the brother he never had. 

As the industry evolved away from live entertainment, Kent moved into the new genre of filmed television drama production managing and later producing hundreds of episodes of shows like Phillip Marlow, The Outlaws, The High Chaparral, Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie, Father Murphy, and Highway to Heaven, as well as numerous movies for television that included The Miracle Worker, Where Pigeons Go To Die, Loneliest Runner and the moving tribute to Michael Landon following his passing in 1991 – Michael Landon: Memories with Laughter and Love

Kent McCray is a humble, soft spoken man but engaging him about his career in television opens the door to a passionate, inspiring, and instructional guided tour through his era of entertainment. To quote Kent, “I loved what I did and couldn’t wait to get up every morning and go to work." Kent went to work for more than 40 years, teaming with devoted colleagues to create a body of work that is treasured by audiences young, old, and in-between all over the world.

Thank you, Kent, for sharing your story and the gift of your talent with all of us.

-Dean Butler

See the full interview with Kent McCray, here.

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Happy Birthday to Mister Rogers' King Friday XIII!

April 13th, 2018
King Friday XIII

A very special someone celebrates a birthday today. The honorable King Friday XIII, ruler of Calendarland in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, is the birthday boy not only today, but every Friday the 13th! King Friday paid us a visit during our 1999 interview with Mr. Rogers and we learned how the King got his name:

Happy birthday, King Friday!!

Watch Fred Rogers' full Archive interview for more in-depth looks at some of your favorite childhood puppets.

- by Adrienne Faillace

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Remembering Steven Bochco

April 2nd, 2018
blog post image

We’re sad to learn that show creator/producer Steven Bochco has passed away at the age of 74. He attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) before moving to Los Angeles and writing for shows including Columbo and Ironside. He went on to create some of the most iconic and groundbreaking dramatic series of all time, including L.A. Law, Hill Street Blues, Doogie Howser, M.D., and NYPD Blue (with David Milch).

Below are some selections from our 2002 interview:

On how Hill Street Blues changed the rules of TV:

On the genesis of LA Law:

On the genesis of NYPD Blue:

Watch Steven Bochco’s full interview and read his obituary in The Hollywood Reporter.

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Wink’s World - DJ, Hit Maker, and Consummate Game Show Host

March 26th, 2018
Wink Martindale

In the winter of 1996, I was doing odd jobs in Hollywood. Some of them very odd, including being a paid studio audience member. Eight bucks an hour. Sounds like an easy gig, but having to sit through four hours of George & Alana was somewhat trying on my buttocks, and my soul. One morning I got the call to go sit in on a taping of a new Disney Television-produced game show called Debt.

I was excited to find that Wink Martindale would be hosting. They only needed to have paid audience members because the show hadn’t started airing yet. I’d been a huge fan of Wink’s when I was a kid, watching Tic Tac Dough every day, and, for a long period, rooting for Guinness Book of World Records-recognized contestant, Thom McKee. As I sat in the audience of Debt, it began to dawn on me: “I could be on this show. I could WIN this show.” It was mostly trivia questions that Gen-Xers would know, and I believe I knew the answer to every single question I saw Wink ask over the three episodes taped that day.

Several months later, I find myself on the set of Debt – not as an audience member this time, but as a contestant. Having handily vanquished my two opponents, I’m now in the bonus, double-or-nothing round. During commercial break, Wink leans over to me and says, “Ya know, John, I gotta tell ya. I just love givin’ away some of the mouse’s money.” “And I love taking it Wink,” I reply. The bonus double-or-nothing question is a complete gift to me. “Name the street that Archie and Edith Bunker lived on in All in the Family.” The two simple words “Hauser Street” increase my winnings to $10,000. It is by far the most surreal experience of my life.

Earlier this year, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to once again meet with Wink Martindale, and discuss his long and varied career. His wife, Sandy, was lovely, and Wink, himself, a complete gentleman. Let’s look at some highlights.

Wink and The King

Wink played a very important role in the rise of Elvis Presley. As a DJ in Memphis, he was the first to give “That’s All Right (Mama)” airplay.  Later on, he gave Elvis his very first television interview.

Wink Tops the Charts

Later, Wink got into the music business, himself. He recorded the classic “Deck of Cards.” The song reached number seven on the Billboard charts and went multi-platinum. It got so big that Wink was asked to perform it on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Wink and the Record Breaker

In 1978, Wink began hosting the show that made him go down in history as a legendary game show host. Tic Tac Dough was a syndicated show, and did pretty well in the ratings. The ratings increased greatly when contestant Thom McKee won 89 games in a row, defeating 43 other contestants. McKee won eight cars, three sailboats, sixteen vacations, and $312,700 dollars. He held the record for most prizes won on a television game show until Ken Jennings came along on Jeopardy! in 2004 and cleaned up.

It was a privilege getting to sit down with Wink Martindale and hear his story. What impressed me most was his great longevity and adaptability. He started as a DJ, became a television host of local, American Bandstand-type dance shows, was a successful game show host, and later morphed into a Gen-X pop culture icon.

And, of course, he was instrumental in me getting some of the mouse’s money! Thanks, Wink!

- John Dalton

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THE MOST INFLUENTIAL TELEVISION EPISODES BY DECADE: The 1990s

March 22nd, 2018
David Chase

The Sopranos - “College” Airdate: February 7, 1999

There’s little agreement as to when television’s “Second Golden Age” began. There are those who claim it doesn’t exist at all, while others actually refer to it as television’s “Third Golden Age.” The way I see it, the Second Golden Age of Television exists, continues to flourish, and has a definite beginning date: February 7, 1999, the date when “College,” the fifth episode of The Sopranos, aired -- my choice for the most influential television episode of the ‘90s.

The mob family drama The Sopranos had originally been conceived as a network show. FOX showed interest in the mid-’90s, but eventually passed when they read the pilot script (ooops!). Creator David Chase seems to have had the idea in his head for quite some time. His 1979 feature-length script for The Rockford Files episode “The Man Who Saw the Alligators” features a New Jersey mobster, named Tony, with mother issues, a right-hand man named Syl, and a love interest named Adrianna. With its roots still firmly in network, The Sopranos premiered on HBO in January of 1999. Though airing on a premium cable channel, much of season one played out as it might have on FOX, with one very notable exception. I believe that exception would eventually come to shake the very foundations of television itself.

In our interview with him, Chase discussed the rule of “network morality,” which basically said that a main character doing an awful thing on a television show must be punished for it, and see the error of his ways before the episode was over – e.g. when Lucy Ricardo stole John Wayne’s footprints from the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, she had to face the wrath of the Duke himself in The I Love Lucy episode, “Lucy Visits Grauman’s.” The protagonist always gets her comeuppance.

After a battle with HBO executives, David Chase shattered this convention in “College.” Because Chase had written for network dramas for the better part of 38 years at that point, he understood the rules, and also knew the audience well enough to understand when he could break those rules.

In the episode, Tony Soprano, in Maine with daughter Meadow to show her colleges, spots a man who turned state’s evidence against the “family,” and was now in the Witness Protection Program. Tony very graphically murders the man with a piano wire, and suffers not at all for having done so. Well, not in the short run, anyway. The next day Tony is back on the road being grilled by Meadow, who has become curious about her father’s mob ties. Tony is struck by a quote on display at the admissions office, "No man can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which one may be true" – hinting that in the long run, Tony might not always get away with murder.

With Tony’s actions, David Chase was clearing the way for Don Draper to be an often-unrepentant cheater, for Walter White to make very morally questionable choices when it was in the best interest of his business, and for Frank Underwood to lie at will and, like Tony Soprano, get away with murder. Chase going outside the bounds of what was acceptable in a television script (and the great success The Sopranos had because of it) led to writers taking more chances, and led to networks airing more daring programming. That freedom to take risks is a central component of the second resurgence of quality writing on television. And it all began with The Sopranos’ “College.”

- John Dalton

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