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

Great Moments In Television History #16: Maude Flanders Gets Hit By A T-Shirt Cannon


Twenty-two years ago, on this very date, this happened on The Simpsons:

Today, it is easy to forget what an impact the death of Maude Flanders had on viewers.  We are now used to semi-regular characters dying on TV shows and, of course, no one really cares that much about The Simpsons any more.

In 2000, though, this was a big deal.  There were weeks of speculation over which Simpsons character would die, though most of us figured that it would be Maude Flanders early on.  Maude had never been a major character, as Rev. Lovejoy pointed out in his eulogy.  Plus, the actress that voice Maude, Maggie Roswell, had left the show.  (Roswell later returned.)  At the time, killing Maude was a controversial move, especially as she died as a result of Homer acting like a jerk.  (Then again, everything that ever happened in Springfield was a result of Homer acting like a jerk.)  Some critics complained that the show treated her death too cavalierly and that such morbid subject matter did not belong on a show like The Simpsons.  But, as the show’s producers pointed out, the death of Maude also opened the door for new storylines involving Ned Flanders and, as a result, Ned became one of the few characters on the show to actually grow as a person.

Even though Ned was invented to act as a foil to Homer and he’s been the victim of some lazy writing (especially in the more recent season), Ned Flanders has a dedicated fan base and a lot it is due to him being one of the few people in Springfield to actually show any sort of decency on a consistent basis.  That Homer is incapable of understanding that Ned is the only person (outside of the family) that he can depend on is one of the show’s best and longest-running jokes.  As a character, Ned was at his best when he was coming to terms with Maude’s death, learning how to date again, and even forgiving Homer for the role he played in the tragedy.  (Homer never really seemed to realize that it was all his fault.  Typical Homer.)  The show deserved more than a little credit for how it handled the fallout of Maude’s death, from Rod and Todd’s sadness to Ned’s very temporary loss of faith.  Over the upcoming years, Ned Flanders went to marry Edna Krapapple and, after the passing of Carol Wallace, became a widower for a second time.

One final note: Marvin Monroe later turned out to be alive so I wonder who was buried in his grave at teh cemetery.

Previous Great 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

Great Moments In Television History #15: The Second NFL Pro Bowl is Broadcast


On January 12th, 1952, NBC aired the Pro Bowl.

Though this was the first time that the Pro Bowl was aired on network television, it was actually the second Pro Bowl to be played.  The 1951 Pro Bowl, which was not televised, was a legendary game featuring amazing plays by both the American Conference Team and the National Conference Team.  The final score was 28 to 27, with the America Conference triumphant.  That was the unaired Pro Bowl.

The second Pro Bowl, which went out to viewers all across America, was closer than the final score indicated.  At the end of the first half, the American Conference led by a score of 13-10.  After a scoreless Third Quarter, the National Conference came roaring back during the 4th Quarter.  During the final quarter, the National Team scored 20 unanswered points and went on to win by a score of 13-30.

I haven’t been able to find out much about what specifically happened during the second Pro Bowl but the stats would seem to indicate that it was a good game!  And it played out to a nationwide audience on January 12th, 1952.

As far as Pro Bowls go, it’s all been downhill from there.

Previous Great 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

Great Moments In Television History #14: The Birth of Dr. Johnny Fever


Today’s great moment comes from the pilot episode of WKRP In Cincinnati.  This first aired on September 18th, 1978 and Johnny Carvaello allowing the spirit of rock and roll to turn him into Dr. Johnny Fever would forever be one of the show’s most famous moments.

Rest in Peace, Howard Hesseman.

Previous Great 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

Great Moments In Television History #13: The A-Team Premieres


39 years ago today, television viewers who were watching NBC primetime met a group of four former members of the Special Forces who, during the Vietnam War, were framed for a crime they didn’t commit.

The pilot for the A-Team first aired on January 23rd, 1983.  No one had much hope for the pilot, with the exception of star George Peppard who predicted the show would be a hit as soon as he read the script.  Producer Stephen J. Cannell hadn’t had a hit in a while.  When Cannell was hired by NBC, network president Brandon Tartikoff asked for one thing: “Mr. T driving a car.”

Despite what the critics thought and despite the skepticism of the network brass, The A-Team was an immediate success.  Audiences loved the four misfits who somehow always managed to win the day despite Face’s womanizing, Murdock’s insanity, and B.A.’s fear of flying.  A week after the pilot aired, the show’s first regular episode was broadcast directly after the Super Bowl.  The rest is history.

If you have a problem, the A-Team can help.  You just have to find them.

Previous Great 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

Great Moments In Television History #12: NBC Airs The First Football Game


Today, everyone takes at least three things for granted: television, football, and football on television.

However, that wasn’t always the case.  There was a time when television was a novelty and the idea of watching a game on television while it was being played was nearly unheard of.  The first televised football game didn’t involve any of the teams in what would eventually become the NFL.  Instead, it was a college game between Fordham and Waynesburg.  It was played on September 30th, 1939.

The game was aired on NBC, as part of an experiment to see whether or not a game could actually be carried live over the air.  The game was called by Bill Stern, a radio announcer who was famous for embellishing the action on the field while he was calling it.  Unfortunately, since no footage of the game appears to still exist, no one knows if he attempted to embellish the action that was being televised.

All in all, NBC spent $100,000 to show the game.  What was the size of the audience for the very first televised football game?  It was speculated that 500 to 1.000 people watched the game on television!  In 1939, with television still a luxury for most people, that was enough to convince NBC that sports and television could go together.  82 years later, it appears that NBC was right.

Incidentally, Fordham beat Waynesburg, 34-7.

Previous Great 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

Great Moments In Television History #11: Elvis Sings With Sinatra


The fourth episode of The Frank Sinatra Timex Show was officially called It’s Nice To Go Trav’ling but it’s unofficial name was Welcome Home Elvis.  That’s because this special, which aired on May 12th, 1960, also marked Elvis Presley’s first appearance on television after his release from the U.S. Army.

It was a 30-minute special, sponsored by Timex.  Elvis only appeared in 8 of those minutes.  The rest of the show’s running time was made up of Frank Sinatra hanging out with his Rat Pack pals.  Still, in those 8 minutes, Elvis performed with Sinatra and television history was made.  (Elvis even wore a tuxedo for the occasion, so he would fit in with Frank and the pack.)  This special was the highest rating program of the week and it proved that being away in Germany hadn’t diminished Elvis’s popularity one bit.

Elvis, who was born 87 years ago on this day, would later go on to star with Nancy Sinatra in 1968’s Speedway.

Previous Great 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

Great Moments in Television History #10: First Night 2013 With Jamie Kennedy


Back in 2012, someone at KDOC-TV, an independent television station in Orange County, was trying to figure out a new and unique way to welcome the new year.  The major networks had their own spectaculars set up for the new year, with live shots from Times Square and big-time celebrity hosts.  What could a little independent station do to compete with that?

Two words: Jamie Kennedy.

Why not bring in stand-up comedian and occasional actor Jamie Kennedy to host the station’s New Year’s special and hopefully bring his own “unique” style of comedy to the proceedings?

Kennedy was hired and the show that he hosted went on to become infamous far beyond Los Angeles.  Featuring a myriad of technical issues, problematic humor, and even a fight that broke out on stage during the closing credits, First Night With Jamie Kennedy has since regularly been cited as one of the worst shows of all time.  Patton Oswalt talks about in his stand-up.  Nathan Rabin wrote an entire article about it.  First Night has become a legendary disaster.

What happened during First Night that made it such a surreal disaster?  Let us count the ways.

The mics often did not work when they were supposed to and the suddenly came on whenever nearby was uttering an expletive.

The crews’ walkie-talkies failed early, which meant that Kennedy was often not aware of when he was on camera and when he wasn’t.  There were frequent shots of Kennedy standing on the stage, looking miserable and obviously wondering how he had gone from Scream to hosting First Night.  At one point, when Stu Stone was interviewing Shannon Elizabeth, the camera lingered on an abject-looking Jamie Kennedy.

Along with making jokes about “Asian rappers,” Kennedy also appeared in comedy skit where he played a Mayan chief at a casino.

Macy Gray performed a song while appearing to be under the influence of something.

The countdown started late, so by 2013 had already arrived by the time the crowd hit zero.

Kennedy awkwardly hit on two drunk girls, one of whom resolved to “get rid of all my haters.”  Kennedy told two girls (who were both black) a joke about what happens when you “go white.”

As if the night could not get bad enough, there was skit featuring puppets making lewd jokes.

And, of course, A FIGHT BROKE OUT DURING THE END CREDITS!

As the legend of First Night spread, Kennedy said that it was supposed to be bad and a parody of a typical network TV new year’s special.  Sure, Jamie, we believe you.

The entirety of the show has been uploaded to YouTube.  It’s not pretty and it’s not great but it is a Moment in Television History!

Previous Great 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

Great Moments In Television History: Frasier Meets The Candidate


On November 8th, 1994, NBC aired an episode of Frasier called “The Candidate.”

Unlike the actor who played him, Frasier Crane was a committed liberal.  Of course, he was the type of liberal who lived in an impossibly large apartment and who had little interest in spending any time with anyone who didn’t have an Ivy League degree.  As a popular radio psychiatrist, Frasier Crane usually refused to endorse politicians or even give his opinion on the issues of the day.  The one time he made an exception was when he endorsed Phil Patterson, the earnest progressive who was running to defeat right-wing Congressman Holden Thorpe.  (Rewatching the episode earlier this week, it was impossible not to hear the voice of Donald Trump when Thorpe called into Frasier’s show to taunt him.)

Fraiser’s father, Martin (John Mahoney, how we miss you!) had already filmed a commercial for Thorpe, one in which he said that his career as as a cop was ended by the type of criminals that would be released on the streets if a bleeding heart like Phil Patterson was elected.  Hoping to counter their father’s endorsement, Frasier and his brother, Niles, arranged to film a commercial for Phil Patterson right in Frasier’s apartment.

In the commercial, Frasier was scripted to endorse Phil Patterson because he “cares about the little people” and “I like the way his mind works.”  After shaking Patterson’s hand, Frasier was to proclaim him to be “the sane choice.”  The rehearsal went well.  Before shooting the actual commercial, Phil and Frasier stepped out on the balcony.  Phil admitted that he needed someone to talk to.  Frasier assured Phil that anything Phil said would fall under patient-doctor confidentiality.  Relieved, Phil explained that he had recently been abducted by aliens and that he hoped that, once in Congress, he hoped he could serve as a sort of intergalactic ambassador.

Frasier and Phil before they stepped out on the balcony:

Frasier and Phil, after the conversation on the balcony:

Fortunately, with the help of his brother, Frasier was able to eventually shoot the commercial.  Of course, the next day, Frasier heard that it was all over the news about “Patterson and the aliens” so he went on his radio show and announced that it didn’t matter that Phil Patterson believed in aliens.  Every leader had his eccentricities.  “Even J. Edgar Hoover let his slip show occasionally!”  Of course, the aliens that were all over the news were a group of Guatamelan exchange students whom Patterson was giving free room and board.

In the end, Holden Thorpe was reelected to Congress but Phil Patterson at least got 8% of the vote and was making plans to relaunch his political career in California.

Along with being one of the funniest episodes of one of television’s best sitcoms (Kesley Grammer’s response to the story about the aliens is absolutely brilliant), “The Candidate is an episode that still feels relevant today, nearly 16 years after it first aired.  Of course, in 1994, it was a given that a candidate thinking he had met with aliens would be viewed as a political disqualifier.  I’m not so sure if that would be the case in 2020.  Would you vote for the candidate who believed he had been beamed aboard a space ship?  Maybe you already have.

If you need a salve to help deal with the burn of 2020 politics, this episode is currently available to be viewed on Hulu.

Previous Great Moments In Television History:

  1. Planet of the Apes The TV Series
  2. Lonely Water
  3. Ghostwatch Traumatizes The UK