News from the Archive

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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He's Catching Up to the 2000 Year-Old Man!

March 20th, 2018
Carl Reiner

On the occasion of Carl Reiner's 96th birthday, we're re-upping our celebration of all things Reiner from his 95th birthday last year!

He's a boy from the Bronx who's had a hand in some of film and television's most memorable moments. Carl Reiner turns 95 years young today, and he's spent over 80 of those years entertaining people in one medium or another, from stage plays, to radio, to the small screen and the large.

Born Carl Reiner on March 20, 1922, Reiner caught the acting bug early in life. After performing in school plays throughout his elementary and high school years, Reiner's older brother encouraged him to take an acting class sponsored by the Public Works Administration during the Depression years. He enjoyed honing the craft and began acting in off-Broadway plays straight out of high school; performed in summer theater in Rochester, NY; toured with a Shakespeare company; and wrote and performed plays as part of the Special Services Unit during World War II.

After his discharge from the Army in 1946, Reiner performed in the famed Borscht Belt circuit, and began his career in television in 1948 with a spot on Maggi McNellis Crystal Room, and appearances on The Fashion Story and The Fifty-fourth Street Revue. Reiner continued to do stage work, when producer Max Liebman caught one of his performances and approached Reiner about joining the cast of a new sketch variety show he was putting together with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, Your Show of Shows. Reiner became a cast member in the 1950-51 season, memorably starring in the recurring "Professor" sketch with Caesar, and often displaying his double talk skills, mimicking foreign languages or delivering Shakespeare-esque dialogue. In his 1998 Archive Interview, Reiner discusses working with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca:

Reiner soon began writing for Your Show of Shows, alongside writers Neil Simon, Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen, and Mel Brooks, and stayed on to become a part of Sid Caesar's next show, Caesar's Hour, where he won his first Emmy:

Reiner and Brooks struck up an immediate friendship, which in turn led to the creation of some fantastic comedy. The pair dreamed up the now infamous "2000 Year Old Man" (which became both a record/radio and TV hit) in Max Liebman's office in the early 1950s:

After Caesar's Hour Reiner hosted the game show Celebrity Game, and secured dramatic parts in several Golden Age dramas including Playhouse 90, and Kraft Television Theatre. He tried his hand at writing novels and penned Enter Laughing, and even took a stab at writing a television series. He wrote what he knew, and in 1958 created thirteen episodes of Head of the Family, a show about a family man who commutes into the big city to write for a television show. Reiner starred in the pilot, which failed to get picked up, until Sheldon Leonard saw it, convinced Reiner to step out of the spotlight, re-cast Dick Van Dyke in the lead and Mary Tyler Moore as his wife, and renamed the program The Dick Van Dyke Show:

The Dick Van Dyke Show enjoyed five seasons on air (1961-66), with Reiner as creator, producer, writer, and actor on the show -- on-screen he stepped out of the lead role and into that of the star's boss, "Alan Brady". Reiner's movie career revved up in the 1960's, as he starred in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. He soon began directing, too - he directed the film version of Enter Laughing in 1967, and wrote the pilot for and directed several episodes of 1971's The New Dick Van Dyke Show. He directed Steve Martin in four films, including 1979's The Jerk and 1984's All of Me, and also directed 1987's Summer School.

Reiner won several Emmys for The Dick Van Dyke Show, and added another to his mantle when he revisited his Dick Van Dyke Show character, "Alan Brady", for a memorable guest appearance on a 1995 episode of Mad About You. Throughout the '90s and 2000s Reiner continued to stay active in both film and television, with roles on the 1999 series Family Law, 2002's Life With Bonnie, and as the voice of "Sarmoti" in 2004's Father of the Pride. He also starred alongside George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon in the 2001 hit film, Ocean's Eleven, and reprised his role of "Saul Bloom" for 2004's Ocean's Twelve and 2007's Ocean's Thirteen. He also had recurring roles on TVLand's Hot in Cleveland and FOX's The Cleveland Show.

A few additional Carl Reiner trivia tidbits: he has appeared on all major versions of The Tonight Show - with hosts Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, and Jimmy Fallon; he's the father of another quite famous actor/writer/producer/director - Rob Reiner; and much like Carol Burnett, when he was starring on a variety show, he used a secret signal to communicate with family members. Son Rob shared what that signal was in his 2004 Archive Interview:

Happy 95th birthday, Carl! Here's to many, many more!

- by Adrienne Faillace

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How Kermit's "Bein' Green" Came To Be

March 17th, 2018
Bein' Green

When Kermit the Frog sings, magic happens. Part of that magic stems from the genius of Sesame Street's music director Joe Raposo. Many of those songs you love from your childhood - "One Of These Things [Is Not Like The Others]," "Sing," "C Is For Cookie" - were his creations. Raposo passed away before the Archive was founded, but we've been lucky enough to interview many of his Sesame Street colleagues. Here's the tale of how "Bein' Green" came to be, according to Bob McGrath, Joan Ganz Cooney, and music director Danny Epstein:

 

Now you want to hear the song again, right? Here's Kermit and Ray Charles' duet :

Magic.

- by Adrienne Faillace

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The Interviews at the Los Angeles Public Library!

March 6th, 2018
blog post image

Thanks to the Los Angeles Public Library for having us out on Saturday, March 10 to talk about television production in Los Angeles!

Jenni and Adrienne had a wonderful time showing clips (viewable below) from The Interviews, sharing stories, and hearing from fans (thanks for braving the rain!). We were also delighted to welcome a very special guest, our 886th Interviewee, Robert Clary, who joined us on stage to discuss stories from his days on The Ed Wynn Show, Hogan's Heroes, Days of Our Lives, and much more. 

The event was presented in conjuction with LAPL's Photo Exhibit, The Industry in Our Backyard: Television Production in Los Angeles 1940s-1980s.

Here are some of the videos we shared from The Interviews, edited by Jenna Hymes:

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Women in Broadcast Journalism

March 1st, 2018

We're celebrating Women's History Month with our Google Cultural Institute Exhibit: Women in Broadcast Journalism. Hear stories from Barbara Walters, Connie Chung, Katie Couric, and more!

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