News from the Archive

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

Share and Enjoy:

THE MOST INFLUENTIAL TELEVISION EPISODES BY DECADE: The 1950s

January 19th, 2018

Every ten years or so, a series episode will come along that is a game changer in one way or another. Sometimes it’s for the better, sometimes it’s for the worse. 

Our own John Dalton has assembled what he considers to be the most influential, scripted series episode of each decade, starting with the 1950s and concluding with what he predicts will be the most influential episode of the ‘10s, which aired in 2017. Can you guess what it might be?

Today we begin with the most influential episode of the 1950s. 

I Love Lucy - “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” Airdate: January 19, 1953

After television sales exploded in 1950, it soon became clear that the television star would be a different animal from the movie star. The movie star in that era was glamorous, unapproachable, and almost otherworldly. Whereas with television, the early stars that emerged tended to be likeable and relatable; more like a friend or family member. People you’d be comfortable having in your living room.

I Love Lucy was a smash hit from the first evening it aired in 1951. Lucille Ball, a former MGM/RKO glamour queen, got to display her gift for physical comedy, as well as her comedic timing which had been evident on her radio show “My Favorite Husband.” For the series, Ball was deglamorized to the point of looking dowdy, which helped make her more relatable. This winning formula made I Love Lucy the number one show on television for five years running.

The moment Lucy Ricardo told husband Ricky she was pregnant (or "expecting" as CBS standards and practices preferred) in December of 1952, television sailed into uncharted territory. People had enjoyed the characters on their favorite radio shows, but the lack of a picture provided a certain distance. Now you could see Lucy and Ethel in your home every week, and viewers considered them part of the family. CBS was inundated with hundreds of letters offering Lucy advice on how to cope with her new situation. 

The evening “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” aired in 1953, viewers were treated to some fine physical comedy (not involving Lucille Ball for once) when the carefully rehearsed moment that Lucy was ready to go to the hospital turned into a chaotic rush. After Little Ricky was born, there was a deluge of new and used baby clothes from viewers showing up daily via mail at Desilu Studios in Hollywood. Lucille Ball giving birth to Desi Arnaz, Jr. IN REAL LIFE on the day “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” aired did nothing to unblur those fiction/reality lines.

It was the first time we witnessed the full pop culture potential of television. People were as excited about Lucy giving birth as they might’ve been about their own best friend having a child. Forty-four million viewers watched that evening - 72% of all televisions in America were set to I Love Lucy. Only twenty-nine million tuned in to watch President Eisenhower get inaugurated the following day. With this episode, it became clear that the medium’s cultural impact had the potential to be far greater than that of print, movies, radio, or Broadway. Every sweeps stunt, including births, weddings, illnesses, or “very special episodes” owes a debt to “Lucy Goes to the Hospital.” It served as a blueprint for many series to come for how to successfully boost ratings.

- John Dalton

Share and Enjoy:

Remembering Hugh Wilson

January 16th, 2018
Hugh Wilson

We’re sad to learn that writer/producer/director Hugh Wilson has passed away at the age of 74. He began his career as a gopher for MTM Productions before being his work as a writer, penning scripts for The Bob Newhart Show and The Tony Randall Show. Wilson went on to create WKRP in Cincinnati and Frank’s Place. He also was a director, directing films including “Police Academy” and “The First Wives Club.” 

Below are excerpts from his 2015 interview, coproduced with the Writers Guild Foundation:

On the “Turkey’s Away” episode of WKRP in Cincinnati:

On winning an Emmy for writing Frank’s Place:

On his writing process:

Watch Hugh Wilson’s full interview and read his obituary in The Hollywood Reporter.

Share and Enjoy:

Editor Kelley Dixon Breaks "Bad"

January 4th, 2018
Kelley Dixon

I met editor Kelley Dixon at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards in 2013, when she won her first Emmy for editing Breaking Bad’s Season 5 episode “Gliding Over All” (which fans will remember for the masterfully cut “Crystal Blue Persuasion" montage). I had followed her podcast, “Breaking Bad Insider” for years, not immediately realizing that the fan-girl hosting the deep-dive into one of the most-talked about show since The Sopranos, was also its editor.

For those/most of you that have never been to a Creative Arts Emmy Award Ceremony, back when it awarded 116 Emmys in a single night (the Awards are now given out over two nights), you may not be familiar with some of the logistical limitations. All nominees were given a warning that they would only have 45 seconds to accept their award. That included a) processing the fact that you won (holy cow!), b) getting to the stage and c) making an acceptance speech before your race against the clock was up. When the Emmy for Outstanding Single Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series was announced, I heard shrieks of joy emanating from the very back of the theater. We all watched Kelley yank off her heels and race to the stage- breathlessly making the most of her moment of triumph.

The recognition was a long-time coming for Dixon, who had started her career in the mailroom at MGM after graduating from Colorado State University. Her career path was inspired by the movie "Nothing in Common" with Jackie Gleason and Tom Hanks playing advertising execs: “I always thought it woud be really neat to come to work and be really creative”  she said. Later, as a PA on thirtysomething, she learned the value of being a jack-of-all-trades, and someone who was willing to put in long hours, hard work, and asking a LOT of questions. “I just became the person who said, ‘Oh, I’ll do it,' so i got to know a lot of the people on set… and those guys were mentoring me.” She took it upon herself to learn how to make cuts with Ediflex and eventually wound up with her first assistant editor gig with Victor du Bois in the late 80s.

Kelley had worked tirelessly as an assistant editor in film and television for 17 years. Then in 2008, Emmy winning editor Lynne Willingham brought Kelley over from a solid gig on Without A Trace, both taking a huge risk on the Breaking Bad pilot. It sure paid off. Kelley is a living example of “making it” by slowly work her way up, her tenacity outmatched only perhaps by her innate talent. In her interview, she recommends to anyone who wants to become an editor to not shy away from P.A jobs or knock the menial tasks. Kelley points out “what greater responsibility is, if a producer GIVES YOU THEIR CAR? They are trusting you!” Do the work, engage your peers, earn trust, even if it takes years. She points out that many of the PAs she came up with matriculated to become writers or producers as well.

When I sat down to interview Kelley, her ebullience was infectious. She clearly loves doing what she does, and her mantra remains: “All roads lead to HERE, and THIS is a good place to be.”

Kelley details her editing process on the first two Breaking Bad episodes she cut, “The Cats in the Bag” and “The Bag’s in the River”: 

On hosting the "Breaking Bad Insider" podcast, and how she moved up to become the 2nd editor on Breaking Bad

On the pacing, directing, and editorial aesthetic on Breaking Bad

On what she loves about editing: 

Watch Kelley Dixon's full interview.

- Jenni Matz

Share and Enjoy:

Remembering Rose Marie

January 2nd, 2018
blog post image

We’re sad to learn that Rose Marie passed away on Thursday, December 28 at the age of 94. She began her career as a child star known as “Baby Rose Marie,” appearing on radio and in movies. As an adult, she began working in television, appearing on Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theatre and The Colgate Comedy Hour, and as a regular on My Sister Eileen. She is perhaps best remembered for her role as “Sally Rogers” on The Dick Van Dyke Show, but she was also a frequent panelist on The Hollywood Squares, a regular on The Doris Day Show, and she continued make appearances on television throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.

Below are some excerpts from her 1999 interview:

On being a child star:

On being cast on The Dick Van Dyke Show:

On her philosophy of comedy:

Watch Rose Marie’s full interview and read her obituary in The New York Times.

Share and Enjoy: