Great Moments In Television History #29: Barney Pops On National TV


Twenty-five years ago today, a horrified nation watched as Barney The Dinosaur fell victim to high winds and a street light.  It was a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade that will never be forgotten.

Previous Moments In Television History:

  1. Planet of the Apes The TV Series
  2. Lonely Water
  3. Ghostwatch Traumatizes The UK
  4. Frasier Meets The Candidate
  5. The Autons Terrify The UK
  6. Freedom’s Last Stand
  7. Bing Crosby and David Bowie Share A Duet
  8. Apaches Traumatizes the UK
  9. Doctor Who Begins Its 100th Serial
  10. First Night 2013 With Jamie Kennedy
  11. Elvis Sings With Sinatra
  12. NBC Airs Their First Football Game
  13. The A-Team Premieres
  14. The Birth of Dr. Johnny Fever
  15. The Second NFL Pro Bowl Is Broadcast
  16. Maude Flanders Gets Hit By A T-Shirt Cannon
  17. Charles Rocket Nearly Ends SNL
  18. Frank Sinatra Wins An Oscar
  19. CHiPs Skates With The Stars
  20. Eisenhower In Color
  21. The Origin of Spider-Man
  22. Steve Martin’s Saturday Night Live Holiday Wish List
  23. Barnabas Collins Is Freed From His Coffin
  24. Siskel and Ebert Recommend Horror Films
  25. Vincent Price Meets The Muppets
  26. Siskel and Ebert Discuss Horror
  27. The Final Scene of Dark Shadows
  28. The WKRP Turkey Drop

Great Moments in Television History #28: The WKRP Turkey Drop


On October 30, 1978, WKRP in Cincinnati changed Thanksgiving forever.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Previous Moments In Television History:

  1. Planet of the Apes The TV Series
  2. Lonely Water
  3. Ghostwatch Traumatizes The UK
  4. Frasier Meets The Candidate
  5. The Autons Terrify The UK
  6. Freedom’s Last Stand
  7. Bing Crosby and David Bowie Share A Duet
  8. Apaches Traumatizes the UK
  9. Doctor Who Begins Its 100th Serial
  10. First Night 2013 With Jamie Kennedy
  11. Elvis Sings With Sinatra
  12. NBC Airs Their First Football Game
  13. The A-Team Premieres
  14. The Birth of Dr. Johnny Fever
  15. The Second NFL Pro Bowl Is Broadcast
  16. Maude Flanders Gets Hit By A T-Shirt Cannon
  17. Charles Rocket Nearly Ends SNL
  18. Frank Sinatra Wins An Oscar
  19. CHiPs Skates With The Stars
  20. Eisenhower In Color
  21. The Origin of Spider-Man
  22. Steve Martin’s Saturday Night Live Holiday Wish List
  23. Barnabas Collins Is Freed From His Coffin
  24. Siskel and Ebert Recommend Horror Films
  25. Vincent Price Meets The Muppets
  26. Siskel and Ebert Discuss Horror
  27. The Final Scene of Dark Shadows

Great Moments In Television History #27: The Final Scene of Dark Shadows


After five years of enthralling audiences with the story of Barnabas Collins and his family, Dark Shadows came to an end on April 2nd, 1971.  By this point, the show itself had tried to return to its gothic roots by setting its latest storyline in 1841.  During the show’s final episodes, Jonathan Frid played not Barnabas but instead, Bramwell Collins.  Unfortunately, this didn’t help the show’s once strong ratings and ABC abruptly canceled Dark Shadows in 1971.

When the show ended, it did so in typical tongue-in-cheek fashion.  With Bramwell and his love, Catharine Harridge, preparing to leave Collinsport, news suddenly came that there had been a vampire attack!

Or was it?

Previous Moments In Television History:

  1. Planet of the Apes The TV Series
  2. Lonely Water
  3. Ghostwatch Traumatizes The UK
  4. Frasier Meets The Candidate
  5. The Autons Terrify The UK
  6. Freedom’s Last Stand
  7. Bing Crosby and David Bowie Share A Duet
  8. Apaches Traumatizes the UK
  9. Doctor Who Begins Its 100th Serial
  10. First Night 2013 With Jamie Kennedy
  11. Elvis Sings With Sinatra
  12. NBC Airs Their First Football Game
  13. The A-Team Premieres
  14. The Birth of Dr. Johnny Fever
  15. The Second NFL Pro Bowl Is Broadcast
  16. Maude Flanders Gets Hit By A T-Shirt Cannon
  17. Charles Rocket Nearly Ends SNL
  18. Frank Sinatra Wins An Oscar
  19. CHiPs Skates With The Stars
  20. Eisenhower In Color
  21. The Origin of Spider-Man
  22. Steve Martin’s Saturday Night Live Holiday Wish List
  23. Barnabas Collins Is Freed From His Coffin
  24. Siskel and Ebert Recommend Horror Films
  25. Vincent Price Meets The Muppets
  26. Siskel and Ebert Discuss Horror

Great Moments In Television History #25: Vincent Price Meets The Muppets


In 1977, during the 16th episode of The Muppet Show, Kermit The Frog got a chance to interview Vincent Price and show off his vampire moves.  Later, no worse for wear, Vincent joined with the Muppets to sing a song.

I’m surprised that this episode was aired on January 16th, 1977 and not during October.

Here is the scene that lives forever in meme form:

Previous Moments In Television History:

  1. Planet of the Apes The TV Series
  2. Lonely Water
  3. Ghostwatch Traumatizes The UK
  4. Frasier Meets The Candidate
  5. The Autons Terrify The UK
  6. Freedom’s Last Stand
  7. Bing Crosby and David Bowie Share A Duet
  8. Apaches Traumatizes the UK
  9. Doctor Who Begins Its 100th Serial
  10. First Night 2013 With Jamie Kennedy
  11. Elvis Sings With Sinatra
  12. NBC Airs Their First Football Game
  13. The A-Team Premieres
  14. The Birth of Dr. Johnny Fever
  15. The Second NFL Pro Bowl Is Broadcast
  16. Maude Flanders Gets Hit By A T-Shirt Cannon
  17. Charles Rocket Nearly Ends SNL
  18. Frank Sinatra Wins An Oscar
  19. CHiPs Skates With The Stars
  20. Eisenhower In Color
  21. The Origin of Spider-Man
  22. Steve Martin’s Saturday Night Live Holiday Wish List
  23. Barnabas Collins Is Freed From His Coffin
  24. Siskel and Ebert Recommend Horror Films

Great Moments In Television History #23: Barnabas Collins Is Freed From His Coffin


The year was 1967 and, in Collinsport, Maine, a petty criminal named Willie Loomis was about to make television history.  Convinced that a fortune in jewelry was hidden in the Collins family’s mausoleum, Willie broke in and opened a coffin that, strangely, was covered in chains.  Willie expected to find a fortune.  Instead, he found Barnabas Collins, a 200 year-old vampire who transformed Willie into his servant and proceeded to spend the next five years masquerading as a cousin from Britain while searching for both a cure to his condition and for the reincarnation of the love of his life, Josette.

Played by stage actor Jonathan Frid, Barnabas Collins made his first appearance on the April 18th, 1967 episode of Dark Shadows.  Though Barnabas was originally only meant to be a temporary addition to the show’s roster of characters, Frid proved to be popular with viewers, like my mother who not only watched the show when it first aired but also when reruns were broadcast in syndication many years later.  The show soon came to center on the ruthless vampire.

In fact, Frid and Barnabas became some identified with the show that many are still shocked to learn that Dark Shadows had run for a full year before Barnabas was introduced as a character.  When the show airs in syndication, it usually starts with Willie (played by John Karlen) opening Barnabas’s coffin and not with the earlier episodes in which the show’s nominal lead character, Victoria Winters, first arrived at Collinwood and met the members of the family.

Many future horror directors and writers have stated that their interest in the genre began with watching Jonathan Frid on Dark Shadows.  And it all began with that one great moment when Willie Loomis opened the coffin and set Barnabas free.

Previous Moments In Television History:

  1. Planet of the Apes The TV Series
  2. Lonely Water
  3. Ghostwatch Traumatizes The UK
  4. Frasier Meets The Candidate
  5. The Autons Terrify The UK
  6. Freedom’s Last Stand
  7. Bing Crosby and David Bowie Share A Duet
  8. Apaches Traumatizes the UK
  9. Doctor Who Begins Its 100th Serial
  10. First Night 2013 With Jamie Kennedy
  11. Elvis Sings With Sinatra
  12. NBC Airs Their First Football Game
  13. The A-Team Premieres
  14. The Birth of Dr. Johnny Fever
  15. The Second NFL Pro Bowl Is Broadcast
  16. Maude Flanders Gets Hit By A T-Shirt Cannon
  17. Charles Rocket Nearly Ends SNL
  18. Frank Sinatra Wins An Oscar
  19. CHiPs Skates With The Stars
  20. Eisenhower In Color
  21. The Origin of Spider-Man
  22. Steve Martin’s Saturday Night Live Holiday Wish List

Great Moments In Television History #21: The Origin of Spider-Man


The first Spider-Man television series was the famous cartoon series that premiered in 1967.  This was the one the featured the theme song about how Spider-Man could do everything that a spider can.  The first season of Spider-Man was produced by Grantray-Lawrence Animation and it started in medias res, with Peter Parker already fighting crime as Spider-Man and also with Spider-Man already knowing most of his villains.

Grantray-Lawrence went bankrupt halfway through the first season of Spider-Man and, as a result, the second season was produced by Krantz Animation, Inc.  Krantz made the important decision to bring in Ralph Bakshi, to executive produce and direct the series.  Bakshi wanted to move the show away from just being a mindless kid’s cartoon.  Instead of emphasizing action, he emphasized character.  The 2nd season premiered on September 14th, 1968 and was rebooted the series, taking it in Baskshi’s new direction.  It started with The Origin of Spider-Man, which told the story of the death of Ben Parker in Bakshi’s trademark style.

In the scene below, Peter learns of his uncle’s death and suits up as Spider-Man to get justice.

We all know how the story ended.  Spider-Man continued to fight crime in New York and Ralph Bakshi continued to challenge the conventional assumptions about what animation had to be.

Previous Moments In Television History:

  1. Planet of the Apes The TV Series
  2. Lonely Water
  3. Ghostwatch Traumatizes The UK
  4. Frasier Meets The Candidate
  5. The Autons Terrify The UK
  6. Freedom’s Last Stand
  7. Bing Crosby and David Bowie Share A Duet
  8. Apaches Traumatizes the UK
  9. Doctor Who Begins Its 100th Serial
  10. First Night 2013 With Jamie Kennedy
  11. Elvis Sings With Sinatra
  12. NBC Airs Their First Football Game
  13. The A-Team Premieres
  14. The Birth of Dr. Johnny Fever
  15. The Second NFL Pro Bowl Is Broadcast
  16. Maude Flanders Gets Hit By A T-Shirt Cannon
  17. Charles Rocket Nearly Ends SNL
  18. Frank Sinatra Wins An Oscar
  19. CHiPs Skates With The Stars
  20. Eisenhower In Color

 

Great Moments In Television History #20: Eisenhower In Color


The very first color television transmission occurred 94 years ago today, in the UK.  Scottish engineer John Logie Baird, the man who built the first television, was also responsible for showing that images could be broadcast in color.  

Unfortunately, no footage or record of that 1928 transmission remains.  Instead, the earliest surviving color videotape recording is one of then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower, delivering remarks during the inaugural color broadcast of WRC-TV on May 22nd, 1958.  The broadcast began in black-and-white before switching to color after 15 minutes.  Of course, only the people who could afford a color television could experience the switch but, at a time when most people still had a black-and-white television and even color films where the exception instead of the rule, this was still many people’s introduction to the idea that television could regularly be viewed in color.  

Even Dwight D. Eisenhower was impressed.

Previous Moments In Television History:

  1. Planet of the Apes The TV Series
  2. Lonely Water
  3. Ghostwatch Traumatizes The UK
  4. Frasier Meets The Candidate
  5. The Autons Terrify The UK
  6. Freedom’s Last Stand
  7. Bing Crosby and David Bowie Share A Duet
  8. Apaches Traumatizes the UK
  9. Doctor Who Begins Its 100th Serial
  10. First Night 2013 With Jamie Kennedy
  11. Elvis Sings With Sinatra
  12. NBC Airs Their First Football Game
  13. The A-Team Premieres
  14. The Birth of Dr. Johnny Fever
  15. The Second NFL Pro Bowl Is Broadcast
  16. Maude Flanders Gets Hit By A T-Shirt Cannon
  17. Charles Rocket Nearly Ends SNL
  18. Frank Sinatra Wins An Oscar
  19. CHiPs Skates With The Stars

Great Moments In Television History #19: CHiPs Skates With The Stars


On September 22nd, 1979, NBC aired the premiere of the third season CHiPs.  The show, which revolved around the hijinks of the members of the California Highway Patrol, was never a favorite of the critics but it was a hit with young audiences who didn’t know any better.  For the start of the third season, the show paid those fans back with Roller Disco.

On this special, two-hour episode, Ponch (Erik Estrada) and Jon (Larry Wilcox) pursued thieves on roller skates while setting up the patrol’s annual charity benefit, which also involved roller skates.  The plot was not as important as the epic finale, in which Baker and Captain Getear (Andrew Pine) greeted all of the local celebrities who showed up for the the charity roller disco.  The scene is remembered for both the quality of the stars (Melissa Sue Anderson and Nancy Kulp!) and the excited announcer who spent the entire benefit shouting out names.

Behold, the 70s:

Previous Moments In Television History:

  1. Planet of the Apes The TV Series
  2. Lonely Water
  3. Ghostwatch Traumatizes The UK
  4. Frasier Meets The Candidate
  5. The Autons Terrify The UK
  6. Freedom’s Last Stand
  7. Bing Crosby and David Bowie Share A Duet
  8. Apaches Traumatizes the UK
  9. Doctor Who Begins Its 100th Serial
  10. First Night 2013 With Jamie Kennedy
  11. Elvis Sings With Sinatra
  12. NBC Airs Their First Football Game
  13. The A-Team Premieres
  14. The Birth of Dr. Johnny Fever
  15. The Second NFL Pro Bowl Is Broadcast
  16. Maude Flanders Gets Hit By A T-Shirt Cannon
  17. Charles Rocket Nearly Ends SNL
  18. Frank Sinatra Wins An Oscar

Great Moments in Television History #18: Frank Sinatra Wins An Oscar


On this date, 68 years ago, Frank Sinatra won his only Oscar when Mercedes McCambridge announced that he had won Best Supporting Actor for his role in From Here To Eternity. This is the role that some claimed the mob got for him, though the truth was that he was given the role after his-then wife, Ava Gardner, made an appeal to studio head, Harry Cohn. At that time, Gardner was actually a bigger star than Sinatra, whose career was considered to be in decline.

Sinatra in decline? The Academy disagreed! And so did the audiences who would make Sinatra a star for many decades to come.

Previous Moments In Television History:

  1. Planet of the Apes The TV Series
  2. Lonely Water
  3. Ghostwatch Traumatizes The UK
  4. Frasier Meets The Candidate
  5. The Autons Terrify The UK
  6. Freedom’s Last Stand
  7. Bing Crosby and David Bowie Share A Duet
  8. Apaches Traumatizes the UK
  9. Doctor Who Begins Its 100th Serial
  10. First Night 2013 With Jamie Kennedy
  11. Elvis Sings With Sinatra
  12. NBC Airs Their First Football Game
  13. The A-Team Premieres
  14. The Birth of Dr. Johnny Fever
  15. The Second NFL Pro Bowl Is Broadcast
  16. Maude Flanders Gets Hit By A T-Shirt Cannon
  17. Charles Rocket Nearly Ends SNL

Moments in Television History #17: Charles Rocket Nearly Ends SNL


On this day, 41 years ago, Saturday Night Live was nearly canceled.

In 1981, Saturday Night Live was in its 6th season and things weren’t going so well.  Lorne Michaels had left the program and he had taken what was left of the original cast with him.  The new producer, Jean Doumanian, had hired an entirely new group of writers and performers.  Doumanian felt that her biggest star would be a former news anchorman-turned-comedian named Charles Rocket.  In order to prop up Rocket, she surrounded him with a cast that included Gilbert Gottfried, Denny Dillon, and Joe Piscopo.  (Among those who auditioned but were not selected: Jim Carrey, John Goodman and Paul Reubens.)  Seeking a black comedian who could take over the roles that were previously played by Garrett Morris, Doumanian tried to recruit a performer named Charlie Barnett.  When Barnett skipped his second audition, she then considered hiring Robert Townsend before she finally settled on a 19 year-old stand-up comedian named Eddie Murphy.

To no one’s surprise, the initial reviews of the new Saturday Night Live were brutal.  Everyone knew it would be difficult, at first, to win over the critics who were used to Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Belushi, Aykroyd, and Lorne Michaels.  What no one expected was that the reviews would never get better and that, instead of Charles Rocket, it would be Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo who would emerge as the new fan favorites.  Reportedly, a few of the cast members resented Murphy and Piscopo’s success.  No one was happy with the way Doumanian was running the show.  It didn’t take long until Season 6 was better known for its backstage tension than for it comedy.  As ratings plunged, there were even rumors that the show might not be renewed.

On February 21st, 1981, those tensions went from being backstage to being on thousands of televisions.  The night’s episode was hosted by Charlene Tilton, a cast member of what was then the most popular show in prime time, Dallas.  Everyone in the country was debating who had shot J.R. Ewing.  Saturday Night Live decided to do its own tak on the phenomenon by asking, “Who shot Charles Rocket?”  Over the course of the show, Rocket was shown having a conflict with every member of the cast.  Finally, towards the end of the episode, Rocket was shot.  During the traditional goodbyes, Rocket appeared sitting in a wheelchair and smoking a cigarette.  With the rest of the cast surrounding him, Tilton asked him how he was feeling.

Here’s what happened:

“Oh, man.” Rocket said, “I’ve never been shot before.  I wish I knew who the fuck did it.”  It can be difficult to hear him in the video above but you can tell from the reactions of the cast that everyone immediately knew what Rocket had said.

This may not seem like a big deal today but this happened in 1981.  This was before HBO started producing their own shows.  This was before anyone had ever heard of a streaming service.  This was when there was only three major networks and they were all closely watched by the FCC.  Dropping an F-bomb on live television, with no tape delay or chance to bleep it out, was a big deal.

Later, Charles Rocket would say that he didn’t even realize what he had said.  That could have been true but the look on his face after he said it suggests that Rocket was aware of what he was saying.  Before Rocket said it, there had been reports that NBC was planning on firing the entire cast at the end of the season.  Did Rocket make an honest mistake (one that has since been made a few more times by cast members and guests on SNL) or was he going out with a bang?  Was this Rocket’s way of getting back at a network that didn’t appreciate him?

The reports about NBC planning to make changes were true, to an extent.  The plan was to fire Doumanian and replace her with Dick Ebersol.  Most of the cast was going to be fired but NBC was specifically planning on keeping the three performers who it was felt were the strongest members of the ensemble: Eddie Murphy, Joe Piscopo, and Charles Rocket!  Needless to say, after Rocket’s bit of improvisation, NBC changed its mind.

At first, it seemed like the show itself might also get canceled as a result.  In1981, the networks had to deal with people like Jerry Falwell leading crusades to cleans up network television.  Just as Fredric Wertham once blamed juvenile delinquency on comic books, all sorts of problems were being blamed on television.  Jean Doumanian was fired after one more episode, along with Charles Rocket, Gilbert Gottfried, and cast member Ann Risley.  Tragically, Charles Rocket’s career never recovered from this moment.  Today, it probably wouldn’t be as big a deal.  NBC would get hit by a fine but the moment itself would go viral and lead to even bigger ratings.  But in 1981, saying the F-word on national television was a career killer.  Rocket did appear in several movies, usually playing smarmy villains.  But he never reached the stardom that had been predicted for him and ended up taking his own life in 2005.

In the end, the only thing that saved Saturday Night Live was that the Writers Guild went on strike and production on every NBC show shut down.  By the time the strike was settled, the season was over and Dick Ebersol had managed to convince NBC to let him keep the series going by focusing on Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo.  When Saturday Night Live returned for its seventh season, Murphy was the undisputed center of the show.  He achieved the stardom that had originally been predicted for Charles Rocket.

Previous Moments In Television History:

  1. Planet of the Apes The TV Series
  2. Lonely Water
  3. Ghostwatch Traumatizes The UK
  4. Frasier Meets The Candidate
  5. The Autons Terrify The UK
  6. Freedom’s Last Stand
  7. Bing Crosby and David Bowie Share A Duet
  8. Apaches Traumatizes the UK
  9. Doctor Who Begins Its 100th Serial
  10. First Night 2013 With Jamie Kennedy
  11. Elvis Sings With Sinatra
  12. NBC Airs Their First Football Game
  13. The A-Team Premieres
  14. The Birth of Dr. Johnny Fever
  15. The Second NFL Pro Bowl Is Broadcast
  16. Maude Flanders Gets Hit By A T-Shirt Cannon