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“Night Court” is in session, or How the NBC peacock learned how to stop worrying and strut its feathers again on Thursday Nights in the ‘80s
Welcome to the third installment of our look back at classic NBC Thursday Night Sitcoms.
Previously we have covered “Cheers” and “Frasier” but for this episode, we take a look back at not only another one of favorite NBC Thursday Night Sitcoms, but one of my all-time favorite sitcoms in general, “Night Court.” It premiered on January 4, 1984.
“Night Court” was created by Reinhold Weege, who previously had been a Writer and Producer on the hit ABC series “Barney Miller” on ABC until it ended its run in 1982. According to the 2002 Special E! TV Tales: Night Court, Weege stated that NBC and Warner Bros. approached him about doing a courtroom comedy. Weege got the idea to develop it around a crazy judge character and began the creative process.
Weege said that for research in creating the show, he went to a New York and sat on the bench with a Night Court judge.
“I was just moved by the craziness of New York/Manhattan Night Court,” Weege stated in the documentary. “There were stories in the newspapers at the time of judges with serious emotional problems, who the state or whatever local authories had a hard time getting rid of.”
Weege’s concept focused on a judge getting through the system who was a little off center and a little wacky. The main character would be Judge Harold T. Stone, a young judge who was a Mel Torme fan and an amateur magician. When he started casting, he was approached by an actor/magician named Harry Anderson, who had already gained fame for doing his magic act on “Saturday Night Live. He had also made occasional appearances on the first season of “Cheers,” where he played the con artist character Harry The Hat, who was constantly scamming the gang at Cheers out of their money with cons or hustles.
Anderson stated in the 2002 E! TV Tales special that when he received a copy of the script, he knew he was this character, as both he and the fictional character shared being magicians, a love for Mel Torme and just happened to be named Harry.
Anderson lobbied to get the part and Weege was skeptical. But after meeting Anderson, Weege knew the casting would fit like a glove. Next up, the supporting cast.
“Alex Keaton grown up” (Referring to Michael J Fox’s character on “Family Ties”) was how John Larroquette said he first saw the Assistant District Attorney character Dan Fielding. In a 2008 AV Club Interview Larroquette stated, “If you look at the early episodes, my character was this sort of tight lipped, vested, pipe smoking, conservative fellow.”
“I think what happens on a television series like that is the creator of the show gets used to the characters and the actors playing them.” Larroquette stated in the same AV Club interview. “They learn to write towards their strengths, which a good writer does, and Reinhold saw that I was this maverick, crazy, with an acerbic sense of humor. Reinhold started writing towards that and creating the character that everybody knows.”
Prior to “Night Court,” Larroquette had made many film and television appearances, including the narrator in 1974’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” He also was the narrator in the 2003 remake, and the 2006 film “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.” He also took the role as Captain Stillman in the 1981 hit comedy film “Stripes” starring Bill Murray and Harold Ramis.
The role of Dan Fielding proved to be successful for Larroquette as he won best supporting actor in a comedy series four years in a row. When “Night Court” ended its run in 1992, Larroquette was offered a spin-off series that would’ve had him starring as Dan Fielding, but he turned it down.
For the role of strong, tall, but loveably dim Bailiff Bull Shannon, Weege casted Richard Moll, who had just played Hurok, leader of the mutant cyclopians in the 1983 cult movie “Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn.” Moll had shaved his head for the part right around the time in he came in to audition for Bull. He won the part, but with a catch.
On the Season One DVD Commentary of the first episode of “Night Court,” Weege said he asked Moll if he’d be willing to keep his head shaved for the show, to which Moll replied “Are you kidding? I’d shave my legs for the part!” Moll along with Anderson and Larroquette were the only three main actors to be with “Night Court” for its entire run from 1984 to 1992, as there were some cast changes during its run.
Weege originally wanted to cast Markie Post as idealistic public defender Christine Sullivan when the show began, but she was playing Lee Major’s boss on the hit ABC Action/Adventure Show “The Fall Guy.” During Night Court’s Second Season, she was able to take a one week break from “The Fall Guy” and play Christine Sullivan in a “Night Court” episode “Daddy for the Defense.”
The Public Defender role for Season Two ended up being filled by Ellen Foley as Billie Young. Foley is perhaps best known as a singer who did a duet with Meat Loaf on “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” When “The Fall Guy” was cancelled in 1986, Post was free to join the cast of “Night Court” during Season Three, replacing Foley and she remained until the show ended in 1992.
Weege told E! TV Tales that role of Bailiff Selma Hacker was specifically written for Selma Diamond.
“Selma was one of the first female comedy writers in a male dominated business,” Weege said.
Diamond started off writing for Groucho Marx in 1943. In the 1950’s, she wrote for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” and was nominated for an Emmy Award.
She made many film and television appearances before landing the role of Selma on “Night Court.” Sadly after the first two seasons, Selma Diamond passed away in 1985 due to lung cancer. She was replaced by veteran television actress Florence Halop as new Bailiff Florence Kleiner for Season Three in Fall 1985. Sadly, Halop passed away from cancer in 1986 after only one season.
In Season Four Marsha Warfield joined the cast as no nonsense Bailiff Roz Russell. Warfield had been a Writer/Performer on Richard Pryor’s short-lived NBC Variety Show in 1977, whose cast also included a pre “Mork and Mindy” Robin Williams. Warfield was also in the 1983 film “DC Cab” and prior to “Night Court” made guest appearances On “Cheers” and “FamilyTies.” Warfield remained with “Night Court” until the show ended in 1992.
In Season two of “Night Court,” Charles Robinson replaced Karen Austin as the new court clerk. In the E! TV Tales Documentary, Robinson said that Weege wanted his character to be the one to try and keep things sane.
“When they would get really crazy,” Robinson told TV Tales. “I was the one who’d say (To Judge Harry)… take it easy sir, don’t go there sir.”
Originally set to be on NBC’s Fall 1983-84 TV Schedule, “Night Court” was held as a mid-season replacement but it came at tough time for NBC as a whole. In September 1983, the network aired “The NBC All-Star Special” hosted Mr. Knight Rider himself, David Hasselhoff.
With the setting being a black gala event and Hasselhoff decked out in full tuxedo he boasted, “We have a fantastic menu planned for you tonight, were having CBS for dinner, and ABC for dessert.” With only three major broadcast networks at the time, NBC was positive they had a successful prime time line up that would dominate the ratings.
Not quite. Fall 1983 is considered one of the most unsuccessful in television history for NBC. Infact, many of their new shows, “We Got It Made,” “Jennifer Slept Here,” “Bay City Blues,” “The Yellow Rose,” “Manimal” and “Mr. Smith” (the last one about an Orangutan who after drinking an experimental formula develops an IQ of 256, can talk, and becomes a political advisor in Washington, DC, and no…I’m not making that up) were all either cancelled by the end of the year, 1983, or early 1984).
The first season of “Night Court” aired on Wednesday nights after “The Facts of Life” and there were doubts if it would return for a second second season. But by Fall 1984, NBC decided to counter program the tight grip CBS had on Thursday nights for the past few years with the top rated duo of “Magnum, PI” at 8 p.m. and “Simon and Simon” at 9 p.m.
With the success of “The Cosby Show” after its September 1984 premiere, the network decided to make NBC Thursday nights a comedy alternative, with Cosby at 8 p.m., “Family Ties” at 8:30 p.m., “Cheers” at 9 p.m. and “Night Court” at 9:30 p.m. The risk paid off and NBC Thursday night became a huge hit for the network.
Later, the show was moved to Wednesday nights where it aired at 9 p.m. and was the lead in to a new show “Seinfeld” airing at 9:30.
After “Night Court” ended its run in 1992, it’s still remains a favorite today in syndication, on DVD and its cast has still remained strong, moving on to various other projects.
Sadly, Weege passed away in December 2012 at the age of 62 due to natural causes. According to Weege’s Los Angeles Times Obituary, Larroquette, in a tribute via Twitter post stating: “In life there are those who impact us with such a force everything changes. Reinhold Weege was that in mine. May he truly rest in peace.”
Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs or How the NBC peacock learned how to stop worrying
and strut its feathers again on Thursday Nights in the ‘90s.
It was May 20, 1993, and one of television’s most beloved sitcoms was ending. Cheers aired its final episode after an amazing 11 years, 275 episode run. My God, what were we supposed to do now. Read a book? That’s it, game over. It’s done, finished, kaput.
Wait! What about the time honored television tradition of spin-offs? Some, like Laverne and Shirley from Happy Days worked, while others, like After MASH from Mash did not. And which Cheers character to spin off? Little known fact, prior to 1993, a Cheers spin-off had been tried before.
Yes, back in 1987, The Tortelli’s was a spin-off starring Dan Hedaya as Nick Tortelli, Carla’s sleazy ex-husband, and Jean Kasem as his bubble-headed second wife Loretta that debuted in January 1987. Both had appeared on Cheers several times starting in Season Two and continued into Season Five, the current season at the time. But despite guest appearances by Carla, as well as Norm and Cliff, The Tortelli’s was never a ratings success and was cancelled after only 13 episodes in May 1987.
Cheers writers David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee had been approached by Kelsey Grammer who had portrayed Frasier a few years before about the possibility of creating a new series for him once Cheers had ended.
During Season 11 of Cheers, when it definitely looked like it was going to be last call, Angell, Casey, Lee (Who now had been successful with creating the NBC hit sitcom Wings) and Grammer began collaborating.
Paramount Studios and NBC were eager to keep some that Cheers spirit going, but Grammer, Angell, Casey, and Lee were at first hesitant to do a Frasier spin-off, wanting to something totally different. However, after Paramount and NBC did some convincing that the character of Frasier already had a built in audience fan base, a Frasier spin off was agreed upon.
Wanting to make the show different from Cheers, which had been set in Boston, Frasier was to be set in Seattle. Instead of a bar being the character’s hangout, a coffee shop was decided upon instead. According to a blog entry written in 2006 by Peter Casey for Hollywood and Levine, the idea of making Frasier a radio psychiatrist was from an abandoned plot towards the end of the Cheers run, where Frasier would fill in for a colleague of his for a week.
The call letters for the radio station where Frasier worked, KACL, was an inside reference, as the first letter A, C, and L came from the last names of Angell, Casey, and Lee. In the Hollywood and Levine blog, Casey stated that Frasier’s original concept was to be set entirely in the radio station, surrounded by “Wacky, yet loveable characters.”
But as they went on developing the show’s concept, they felt it was a little too much like the hit 70’s sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati.
At the time, David Lee was helping his Mother care for his Father who had recently had a stroke. Lee pitched shifting the concept from a workplace comedy to Frasier caring for his Father, a former policeman who had been injured in the line of duty, while being host of his own radio advice call in show.
Casey stated that they wanted to make Frasier’s Father be very different from Frasier. “Differences create conflict,” Casey stated in his 2006 blog. “Conflict creates humor.” So it was decided while Frasier was intellectual and pompous, his Father Martin (John Mahoney) would be a down to earth, no nonsense. The idea to make him a cop was based on Peter Casey’s Father and Grandfather who both had actually been San Francisco Policemen.
Originally the Niles Crane character, Frasier’s Brother, wasn’t a part of Frasier at all, with the focus being more on Frasier and his Dad. According to a December 1993 Chicago Tribune article, while developing Frasier, casting director Shelia Guthrie showed Angell, Casey, and Lee a photo of Broadway actor David Hyde Pierce. Pierce had just been on another NBC show called The Powers That Be and said if they were casting Frasier’s brother, Pierce bore a resemblance to Grammer when he first started as Frasier on Cheers many years ago.
According to Casey’s 2006 Hollywood and Levine entry, he, Angell, and Lee screened tapes of Pierce’s performance on The Powers That Be and loved his work, thus creating the Niles character, who was supposed to be even more intellectual and pompous than Frasier.
Niles was envisioned as if Frasier had never met and been exposed to the gang at Cheers, becoming a more down to earth character. Pierce studied Grammer’s first season on Cheers (Season three) to base his character.
Only, if you watch Cheers reruns, you might notice Frasier mentioning his father is deceased and had been a research scientist, and says he was an only child. However, if you catch the season two episode where Ted Danson returns as Sam Malone for a guest appearance, things do get somewhat cleared up on that matter.
The character of Martin’s British home care worker Daphne was originally possibly going to be Hispanic. In the Hollywood and Levine blog, Lee had stated while in a series pitch meeting with NBC Network President Warren Littlefield, they told him that she might either be British or Hispanic, but hadn’t decided yet. If they wrote her as a Hispanic character, they were considering Rosie Perez for the part.
Littlefield suggested that if they ended up deciding to write the character as British, that he thought actress Jane Leaves would be perfect. Leeves caught the attention of Littlefield when she had then recently appeared in a few episodes of Seinfeld as Marla, aka “The Virgin” character. It was decided to make the character British, and Leeves won the role.
Last but not least, there was the character of Roz, Frasier’s Radio Show Producer.
In the Season One DVD Documentary, “Behind the Couch, the making of Frasier,” Peter Casey stated they needed the Roz character to be someone strong who could go toe to toe with Frasier. Someone that Frasier may be superior to in his own arena, but at the radio station, it was Roz who was the superior one, a veteran who knows all the ropes.
Originally, Lisa Kudrow was cast but was replaced by Peri Gilpin. Things ended up working out in the end for Kudrow as well, who the very next year broke out into stardom as Phoebe, on the hit NBC Sitcom, Friends.
Both Mahoney and Gilpin had guest starring roles in two episodes of the final season of Cheers. Mahoney appeared as a hack jingle writer Rebecca (Kirstie Alley) hires to write a jingle for the bar. Mahoney has one brief scene with Grammer in the episode.
In a different episode, Gilpin played a reporter interviewing Woody (Woody Harrelson) when he’s running for Boston City Council.
Debuting in September 1993, Frasier was a hit with both critics and audiences, having a successful run. The show ending up with an 11-year, 275-episode run just like Cheers. Each of Cheers main cast (With the exception of Kirstie Alley, who had stated she never guest starred because of her Scientology beliefs) made a guest appearance on Frasier.
Speaking as a die hard Cheers fan, I definitely recommend Frasier. Now if you’ve never seen an episode of Cheers, I’d recommend checking that out first, as there are Cheers references, which might be confusing if you watch Frasier first, given that it is a Cheers sequel.
But Frasier also works on its own as a funny-sophisticated comedy. So go for it, now…check out Cheers and Frasier. Whether you are familiar with both shows or just haven’t seen them for awhile, catch up on some laughs and memories.
If you’ve never seen either show and think that they are two old shows from the 80’s, and 90’s might not be worth your time…I guarantee you, that while one is from the 80’s and one is from the 90’s, they are both good, quality shows that are 96% better than a lot of current shows. Yeah I went there. I went there, took pictures and flew back already.
So watch them…you won’t be disappointed. Chuck has left the building.
How the NBC peacock learned how to stop worrying and strut its feathers again on Thursday nights in the 1980’s
On Thursday, September 30, 1982, viewers tuning into to prime time television had a choice from the big three networks to choose from (Fox was still five years away). If you tuned in to ABC, you could catch the sitcom Too Close for Comfort. If you already had CBS on (As many viewers then did, tuning into the hugely popular Magnum, PI) they stayed at 9 p.m. for the successful detective series Simon & Simon.
As for NBC, not many people had been tuning in over the past years as the network had been struggling. They hoped to turn that around but what would be airing in the 9 p.m. slot?
Oh wait, I remember now. It’s was a brand new show called Cheers that was created by James Burrows along with the duo of Glen and Les Charles, whose resume includes hit shows as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, Mash and Taxi.
Cheers was romantic comedy about two polar opposites, intellectually snooty college grad student Diane Chambers (Shelly Long) and womanizing ex-Boston Red Sox Player Sam Malone (Ted Danson) who were both repulsed, and romantically attracted to each other. Sam was the owner/bartender of a Boston Bar called Cheers, and in the pilot episode, Diane is jilted and left at Cheers on the eve of her wedding when her fiancé decides to go back to his ex-wife.
The supporting cast included the slow-witted, but loveably-kind-hearted bartender “Coach” Ernie Pantusso, played by Nicholas Colasanto, an acclaimed Director/Actor who played Mob Boss Tommy Como in the 1980 Robert DeNiro film, Raging Bull. Rhea Pearlman as tough-talking waitress Carla who had a dislike for Diane. Pearlman had played Zena, the girlfriend of Louie (Danny DeVito) on Taxi. When creating Cheers, The Charles Brothers created the role of Carla especially for her.
Then there was the classic comedy duo of Norm (George Wendt) and Cliff (John Ratzenberger) television’s best loved barflys. But originally, one of these characters almost never existed. Originally John Ratzenberger auditioned for the role of Norm. After his audition, he didn’t feel that it went well, and before leaving decided to take a chance that ended up a successful gamble.
As Ratzenberger told Writer Jerry Buck in a June 20,1985 interview with The Day a New London Connecticut Newspaper, he asked producers, “Do you have a bar room know it all?”, and when asked to elaborate, Ratzenberger described and improvised a character based on a cop he knew in his hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut.
“He was a nice guy, but a know it all,” stated Ratzenberger in the interview. “All people who wear uniforms and have keys hanging from their belts tend to be that way. Cliff is the kind of guy who wishes he’d been a combat marine.”
Ratzenberger continued explaining to Writer Jerry Buck in the interview, “But maybe he was near sided or had flat feet, and became a mailman. He loves the respect he gets. Cliff lives with his mother and drives a Studebaker.”
Burrows and The Charles Brothers originally had thought to set the series in a hotel in Las Vegas, but soon discovered the best stories were coming from the hotel bar, so they decided to change the setting to just a bar, moving from Las Vegas to Boston. Since they felt it was a great sports town and hadn’t been used much in prior television shows, it could provide a great setting and it sure did.
Originally Sam Malone was going to be an ex-wide receiver for The New England Patriots, but after casting Ted Danson in the role, the Charles Brothers decided that Danson’s athletic build that the character of Sam would work better as an ex-baseball player. Thus, they rewrote his character to be an ex-relief pitcher for The Boston Red Sox.
It debuted that Thursday night sandwiched between Fame at 8 p.m. and Taxi at 9:30 p.m. Taxi had previously aired on ABC and was cancelled in April 1982. Its time slot had been Thursdays at 9:30 p.m., however NBC picked it up and paired it with Cheers. Interestingly enough by this time, Pearlman and DeVito were married, and their shows now paired together. NBC even ran promos with Danny DeVito as his Louie DePalma character saying “Same time, better station.”
Barbra Holsopple of The Pittsburgh Press praised the show on the night of the premier, concluding the review with, “Cheers is somewhat of a lone breed this season, the intelligent comedy that probes human nature for its humor.”
Though reviews were good, ratings were not and by the end of the 1982-83 television season, Cheers ranked 77th out 77 shows on the network. But it avoided cancellation due to a few factors, including NBC itself not doing well at the time, them having nothing to replace it with and Grant Tinker and Brandon Tartikoff who were in charge at NBC loved the show, feeling that it just needed time to find an audience.
In a November 29, 1983 New York Times interview with Peter Kerr, Tartikoff stated, “Cheers is a very important comedy for us. It is classy, sophisticated and for adults. We never second doubted that we would renew it for this year.”
Plus, critics loved it and the first season got Emmy nominations and won, including Shelly Long for Best Actress in a Comedy Series and Cheers won for best comedy. Fans were also catching up on reruns and liked what they saw. Season two would now have Sam and Diane actually pursuing a romantic relationship.
In September 1983, as Cheers season two was to begin, The NBC All Star Special aired, kicking off with the gang at Cheers watching it on TV in the bar, and Diane, having been up late the previous night studying for an exam, nodding off into a dream she’s waiting tables there along with Carla, with Sam and Coach bartending at this party. Norm and Cliff are there as party guests and all the while Diane trying to pitch to an NBC executive her idea for a series about Emily Dickenson, entitled, “Damsel in Distress.”
The special was to preview the new NBC 1983 fall lineup of shows and was hosted by none other than Mr. Knight Rider himself, David Hasselhoff. Party guests included Stephanie Zimbalist, Pierce Brosnan (Remington Steele), Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, casts of Gimme a Break, The Facts of Life, and St. Elsewhere and even Kitt, the talking car from Knight Rider!
Unfortunately this special was never included on the DVD extras. It is known as the “Cheers edit” version and is available on YouTube. It is a must see for Cheers and 80’s TV Fans.
Hasselhoff, boasting about NBC’s fall 1983 Schedule and introducing the first show said. “We have a fantastic menu planned for you tonight. Were having CBS for dinner and ABC for dessert.”
By spring 1984, Sam and Diane’s relationship ended in a messy break up, but more viewers were starting to turn in, finishing in 35th place in the ratings. This was a definite improvement from the year before.
But September 1984 turned out to be much better. NBC debuted The Cosby Show at 8 p.m. on Thursday nights and became the #1 show on television (Until Roseanne took the spot in 1989). NBC moved Family Ties from Wednesdays to Thursdays at 8:30 p.m., with Cheers at 9 p.m., Night Court at 9:30 p.m. and Hill Street Blues at 10 p.m.
For Season Three, Diane got a new love interest, Dr. Frasier Crane, a pompous but well-meaning psychiatrist. The part originally was offered to John Lithgow (Twilight Zone: The Movie/ Footloose/Harry and the Hendersons) but Lithgow passed, saying he wasn’t interested in a television role. However in later years, Lithgow changed his mind, starring in the successful Third Rock from the Sun from 1996-2001.
The role of Frasier instead went to Kelsey Grammer, who only was supposed to appear in seven episodes, but became a beloved character with Cheers’ writers, producers, and fans. He became a permanent character, even after Diane left him at the alter at the end of the season. In fact right after Cheers ended, Frasier got his own spin-off with Grammer playing him for a record twenty years from 1984 to 2004. The only other actor to have that record is James Arness, who played Marshall Matt Dillion on the CBS Western Gunsmoke from 1955-1975.
Both Shelly Long and Rhea Pearlman became pregnant during Season Three. With Pearlman it was easily written for her Carla character, but what about Diane? A Storyline was considered of Diane becoming pregnant with a “Who is the Father” plot, Sam or Frasier? But, it was decided to conceal Long’s pregnancy instead.
Sadly, Nicholas Colasanto passed away during Season Three so Coach’s passing was written in at the beginning of Season Four. Woody Harrelson joined the cast as naive farm boy Woody Boyd. Coach and Woody had been pen pals (Exchanging letters, not pens…as it was Coach’s idea). Woody began corresponding with Coach while seeking advice on being a Bartender in the big city.
Woody arrived at Cheers to meet Coach in person, but Sam informed him Coach had passed away. Sam hired Woody to be the new Bartender and he proved to be a younger version Coach. Ironically, the character was already named Woody long before Harrelson was cast. Colasanto had previously hung a picture of Geronimo in his dressing room. After he passed, producers hung the picture on the wall on the bar where it remained until the end of the show’s run.
Frasier’s love life improved in Season five when he began a relationship with fellow psychiatrist Dr. Lilith Sternin (Bebe Neuwirth). The character of Lilith was only supposed to appear in one episode of Season Four as a disastrous blind date for Frasier, but the two characters worked so well together and viewers loved her so she was granted a regular role on the show.
For Season Three, Cheers finished 12th place in the ratings. In Season Four Cheers finished for the first time in the top 10 ratings, notching 5th place. During Season 5, Cheers was 3rd in the ratings, which is why it surprise when an announcement was made in December 1986 that Shelly Long would be leaving at the end of the season. While also working on Cheers, Long had made hit films, such as Outrageous Fortune with Bette Midler and The Money Pit with Tom Hanks.
Long said that she wanted to focus now on her movie career and family. At the end of Season Five after almost marrying Sam, Diane left for “Just Six Months” to finish writing her novel. The new character of Rebecca Howe (Kirste Alley) replaced Diane, only this time she was Sam’s Boss and instead of owning the bar, Sam was a Bartender (Though in Season 8, he regained ownership of the bar). Alley made her film debut just five years earlier, as Saavik, Spock’s Vulcan protégée in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
In 1990, after many years of being nominated, Ted Danson finally won an Emmy for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, Cheers celebrated its 200th episode and for the first time was ranked 1st in the ratings.
On May 20, 1993, it was Last Call as Cheers aired its final episode when Diane returned, now a successful Hollywood Screenwriter who had just recently won an award for outstanding writing of a television movie script based on Carla’s life.
In the final scene, Sam, alone in the bar straightens the crooked picture of Geronimo on the wall (As a nod to Coach and Actor Nicholas Colasanto) and walks back from the bar into the poolroom. This was a nod to the very first episode, when Sam, the first character we ever meet, walks out from the poolroom into the bar.
This is my all-time favorite TV Show. It was never preachy, or did any “Tonight on a very special Cheers” episodes. It’s just a funny, laugh out loud, well-written show, with great characters.
Not only was this a great show, but represents in my opinion, the greatest chapter in NBC Thursday Night Comedy History, highlighted by Cheers and Night Court (Another one of my favorites).
If you haven’t watched for a while, get reacquainted with some old friends, and if you’ve never seen it, start with season one and watch the seasons in order. You’ll enjoy the show more…I said now, I’m serious dammit…don’t make me sing the theme song again…
This has been one Chuck’s Opinion, thank you, and Goodnight.
A Carnivorous Aliens Holiday Special
Christmas time is fast approaching. Time for sipping egg nog, singing carols, and spending time with loved ones. And what could be more festive then humanoid aliens who are really reptilian when you peel their human disguises who’ve come to this planet to eat us? Deck the halls with bowls of holly…fa la..la?
In the world of pop culture, aliens have been invading us for decades. Some, like ET, are friendly, just stopping by Earth to collect flowers and eat Reese’s Pieces, while others, like in “Independence Day” stop by Earth to blow up our national monuments, or as in “V”, eat us. Bummer, huh?
Okay, so some of you who are too young to remember, may be asking what “V” is. Well, let’s travel back to the magical year of 1983, when He-Man had the power of Greyskull (as well as toy stores), Prince was “Partying like it’s 1999”, and in the third installment of the film franchise, “Jaws” was attacking his victims in 3-D at your local cinema.
In May of that same year, NBC premiered a two-night miniseries called “V”, which started off with 50 alien mother ship arriving on Earth, and positioning themselves over major cities across the world. Once contact was made with them, we discovered they looked humanoid, but had strange sounding voices.
Claiming their real names would be difficult to pronounce, they said they chose simple names from Earth to make things easier, as their supreme commander insisted on being called John. Claiming they needed our help to produce chemicals to save their dying planet, we were in a position to be able to help them, and in exchange, they would share their technology with us, then leave as they arrived, in peace. They even became known as “The Visitors”, intending that they were only temporary residents of our planet.
They were welcomed and embraced by most of Earth, and at first, things were going well. Then suddenly there were news broadcasts about a “Conspiracy” against The Visitors by Earth’s Scientists, to seize control of Visitor Motherships for their own personal gain, with some scientists admitting to being part of the conspiracy themselves, and naming others, as well as authorities claiming in news broadcasts, that major medical breakthroughs had been discovered by scientists, but they had not been shared due to money to be gained by research grants. People started turning against scientists, some of whom were being arrested, and others disappearing.
Suspicious to find out the truth of what was going on, news cameraman Mike Donovan (Played by Marc Singer, whom at the time was best known as Dar, from the 1982 film “The Beastmaster”) sneaks aboard the Los Angeles mothership, and finds out the “Conspiracy” was created by The Visitors themselves, through help of a “Conversion process” to discredit Scientists whom the feared might find a way to stop them.
But that’s not all he found out. He also found out what Visitors like to snack on, and it wasn’t a bucket of KFC. Donovan gets camera footage of them eating live mice, as well as sexy alien femme fatale Diana (Jane Badler) who even eats whole Guinea pigs. Yummy. He’s discovered by a Visitor, and during a struggle, Donovan accidently peels away the visitor’s face to discover their humanoid appearance is really just a disguise for their true form, reptilian like creatures which forked tongues, who spray poisonous venom.
After barely escaping the mothership, Donovan tries to get his news story on to warn us, but it’s too late. The Visitors now have control of our television airwaves, Donovan’s story never gets on air, and he is discredited as a traitor to the human race, and is now a fugitive.
John delivers a televised address that the world government leaders have “Requested” help, and martial law is now instituted, and The Visitors move in with laser weapons to “Restore law and order”. The Visitors even get help from humans who’ve either been brainwashed or some willingly in order to gain positions of power. However, there are some Visitors who don’t condone with their leader’s plans are, and try to help us (Including one played by Robert Englund, a year before he would go onto to the iconic role of Freddy Kruger in “Nightmare on Elm Street”). Later sneaking back on the mothership in visitor uniform disguise, Donovan finds out The Visitors true plans are to steal all of Earth’s water, and in a nod to the classic “Twilight Zone” episode, “To Serve Man”, harvest human beings for food.
Donovan soon hooks up with a group of rebels led by scientist Dr. Julie Parish (Played by Faye Grant, who at the time was best known for her role as delinquent high school student Rhonda Blake on “The Greatest American Hero”). Other members of this resistance group include an anthropologist whose daughter Robin (Blair Tefkin) has been impregnated by a visitor…will her bun in the oven be the destruction of mankind? Or it’s hope?
“V”(Which stood for Victory) was created, written, and directed by Kenneth Johnson, a graduate from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon College, when it was still Carnegie Tech and, in the same graduating class as Steven Bochco (creator of “Hill Street Blues” “LA Law”, and “NYPD Blue”) who by that time already had impressive television credentials, as a writer/producer of “The Six Million Dollar Man”, creator of its spin-off The Bionic Woman”, and created the television adaptation of “The Incredible Hulk”.
It was an allegorical retelling of the Nazi’s rise to power in World War II. Johnson had envisioned telling a story of a fascist takeover of The United States, but not involving extraterrestrial’s, but NBC and Johnson disagreed on where the fascist takeover would come from, until due to the success of “Star Wars”, that NBC thought “What if the Nazi’s were from outer space?”
According to a 2009 interview, Johnson didn’t like the idea at first, but then decided he could hook in viewers, especially younger ones with all the eye candy of aliens and spaceships, then tell the story he wanted to tell. Airing on NBC May 1st and 2nd 1983 (right before that year’s May 25th release of “Return of The Jedi”) “V” was huge ratings success, originally intended as pilot for a series for the fall 1983-84 TV Season. (Since at the end of the two-part four-hour mini-series, the aliens were now in control, not like “Independence Day”, where after two hours, humans have won, and the aliens are defeated).
There was even a similar premise that been established at the four-hour miniseries similar in sorts to “Star Wars”, where “The Visitors” are set in role of “The Empire”, and Donovan (Semi established in the first miniseries as Han Solo/Indiana Jones type character), Julie and the rebels one could argue were fighting for freedom against an evil tyrannical force like in “Star Wars” trilogy. And instead of Darth Vader, you had in Diana, a sexy conniving villainess character, as an evil leader, with laser weapon visitor troops at her command, much like the Storm Troopers, and who answered to an Emperor Palpetine type character, known only as “The Leader” unseen but referred to, who was still back on the visitor’s home planet.
Johnson stated in the miniseries DVD commentary that it was decided that “V” in 1983 would be too expensive to produce as a weekly series. In 1984, a three-part miniseries “V: The Final Battle” aired to conclude things, with the human rebels defeating the alien visitors. Johnson and NBC parted ways to creative differences. Though the Final Battle did introduce who ended up becoming one of the most popular characters in the “V” franchise, mercenary Ham Tyler (Played by Michael Ironside, of “Scanners”, “Top Gun”, and “Total Recall”).
In fact, in a 1990 interview with Ironside in Starlog Magazine, Ironside stated his approach to playing the villainous henchman Richter in “Total Recall” was playing him as his “V” Ham Tyler character, but this time as a villain instead of a good guy as on “V”.
“V: The Final Battle” did even better in the ratings than the original miniseries, and NBC immediately ordered a one-hour weekly series for fall 1984, but in the mid 1980’s era it did prove too expensive to do as a weekly series, even recycling stock footage from the original two miniseries, plus storylines lost it’s serious tone it originally had in favor of more campy storylines, trying to cash in the two top rated Prime Time TV Soap operas at the time, “Dynasty” and “Dallas” and was cancelled after only one season in 1985. Also by the time the weekly series aired, Ken Johnson was no longer involved, though in Fall 1989, he got to create the television adaptation of the hit 1988 film, “Alien Nation” which aired on Fox. It had a successful first season run, letting Johnson use a television series to tell more serious sci-fi stories as he had originally planned to do in later incarnations of “V”, but unfortunately “Alien Nation” was considered too expensive to produce as a weekly series, and was cancelled in 1990.
However dangling storylines got resolved via later television movies on FOX, and later enjoyed a successful DVD release.
ABC aired a reboot with totally new characters in 2009, (Without Johnson’s involvement) but was unsuccessful, and was cancelled in 2011. Both original 1983 and 1984 Mini Series, the 1984 TV Series, and 2009-2011 TV Reboot are all available on DVD. They’re definitely worth a look.
You can check out Marc Singer in “The Beastmaster” DVD and Faye Grant on Season one of “The Greatest American Hero” DVD which perhaps shall be covered in a future article. That’s a show if you haven’t seen, and you’ve been enjoying 80’s nostalgia as I have with “Stranger Things”, then all three seasons of “The Greatest American Hero”, which ran on ABC from 1981-83 are available on DVD…Believe it or not… (More on that later).
And last but not least, if you’re a fan of aliens using humans for food, though go back and check out the original “To Serve Man” episode on the season three DVD of the original “Twilight Zone” Television Series, which first aired in 1962, 55 years ago. With only a half hour format, it got a lot of great things in plot wise, much like “The Twilight Zone” did on a regular basis.
The main alien villain is played by Richard Kiel, who later would go on to fame as Jaws, dastardly foe of the Roger Moore era of James Bond, in “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker”.
In conclusion, if you have an extraterrestrial visitor this Christmas Season, and it likes snacking on Guinea pigs instead of Reese’s Pieces, then you definitely better watch out for Goodness sake. HO! HO! HO! And Happy Holidays from your friends at Cash in Culture.com
BUY V: The Complete Series on Amazon Today. Go ahead, you deserve to kick back and relax with some great television.
A long time ago…in a galaxy far, far away…1987, there was no internet, no cell phones, no Twitter, and only three broadcast networks, NBC, CBS, and ABC. In the fall of 1984, NBC debuted a new hit “The Cosby Show”, which was followed by ABC’s “Growing Pains” in fall 1985.
When a new fourth network, FOX, debuted in 1987, America was introduced to a brand new sitcom family that broke all the rules, when Married…with Children premiered. It featured The Bundy family of Chicago, consisting of sarcastic sexist Dad Al Bundy (Ed O’Neill), his lazy, horny housewife Peg (Katey Segal), their two children, boy-crazy bimbo teenage daughter Kelly (Christina Applegate) and young con artist Bud (David Faustino).
Along with The Bundy’s, we met their yuppie newlywed neighbors, Steve and Marcy Rhoades (David Garrison and Amanda Bearse). The series was created veteran TV Writing duo Ron Leavitt and Michael Moye, who together their resume included hit shows such as “Happy Days”, Laverne and Shirley”, “Good Times”, “Different Strokes”, and “The Jefferson’s”, as well as creating the critically acclaimed, but short-lived (Due to its time slot being up against ABC’s hit soap, “Dynasty”) 1984 NBC sitcom, “It’s your move” which starred a then 15 year old Jason Bateman, as well as David Garrison, who three years later to be a “Married…with Children” cast member as Steve Rhoades.
Leavitt and Moye were tired of happy, sticky sweet TV Families as featured on “Family Ties”, “Growing Pains”, and television’s then #1 show, “The Cosby Show”, and felt that other viewers were to, and there could be an audience out there that would enjoy a more dysfunctional TV family, in fact the original working title was “Not the Cosbys”.
In a Biography Channel Married…with Children special, Marcy Vosburgh, a Writer/Producer on the show stated, “Their theory was, when you watch Television Family Sitcoms, you just feel terrible about your own life, because your life sucks, and they all have clean houses and hug at the end.”
“And Ron and Mike wanted to do a show where no matter what happened”, added Vosburgh, “At the end you could turn of the television and feel a little better about yourself.”
The show became Fox’s first hit series, and ran in primetime from 1987, until 1997, and since entering syndication in fall 1991, has remained a hit in reruns, and the series later enjoyed a successful DVD release.
In honor of its 30th anniversary, here are some show fun facts:
1. The original working title of the show was “Not the Cosby’s”
2. Originally the show was greenlit as “What if Sam Kinison and Roseanne Barr were married?” Both turned the show down, though Roseanne got her own blue collar family sitcom on ABC in Fall 1988, which ran until 1997, just as “Married with Children”, and in December 1989, Kinison guest starred as Al Bundy’s Guardian Angel, in an hour long episode spoofing “It’s a Wonderful Life”, entitled, “It’s a Bundyiful Life”
3. Al Bundy was the last role cast. Show Co-Creator Michael Moye said in the “Married…With Children E! True Hollywood Story” half of the actors who came into to audition for the part read it like Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason’s beloved husband character on “The Honeymooners”), yelling, and the other half in a scarier, creepy way as in “I’ll get you in your sleep Peg”, like Jack Nicholson from “The Shining”.
4. Seinfeld’s Michael Richards read for Al Bundy according to Casting Director Mark Hirschfeld during an interview on “Married…with Children…E! True Hollywood Story”, while Richards didn’t get the Al Bundy role, Hirschfeld said he later remembered and recommended Richards for the part of Kramer when casting for “Seinfeld”.
5. The first role cast was that of next door neighbor Steve Rhoades (David Garrison). Show Creators Ron Leavitt and Michael Moye had previously worked with Garrison on a 1984 NBC Sitcom “It’s Your Move”, and wrote the Steve Rhoades character specifically with Garrison in mind.
6. Show Creators Leavitt and Moye were big wrestling fans, and the Bundys got their last name from pro wrestler King Kong Bundy, who later appeared as a guest star on the show, first as one of Peg’s relatives in Season 2, and in a later season as himself.
7. Steve Rhoades got his last name after wrestler Dusty Rhoades, and in early episodes, Al had a co-worker at the shoe store name Luke Ventura (Ritch Shyder) named after Jesse “The Body” Ventura.
8. Ted McGinley, who played Marcy’s second husband Jefferson Darcy, actually first appeared as Peg’s husband during Season 4, in the Christmas episode spoofing “It’s a Wonderful Life” where Sam Kinison playing Al Bundy’s Guardian Angel, showed Al what life would’ve been like if he was never born, McGinley played Peg’s perfect husband, Norman Jablonski.
9. When the Bundy’s made their TV Debut in 1987, another series debuted the same time on Fox, “The Tracey Ullman Show” featured short animated segments before and after the commercial breaks. Two years later, that animated family had a 1989 Christmas special air on FOX, followed by a spin-off series debut in January 1990, and the show still airs on Fox today, “The Simpsons”.
10. David Boreanaz’s first television role was as Frank, Kelly Bundy’s Biker Boyfriend on a 1993 episode “Movie Show”. When Kelly goes out to the movies with her family for her birthday, she discovers Frank is cheating on her, and later has her Dad Al Bundy beat Frank up.
11. Boreanaz of course went on to play Vampire Angel on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and later in his own spin off “Angel”, late r playing FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth on “Bones” and currently stars as Master Chief Petty Officer Jason Hayes on “Seal Team”.
BUY Married with Children: The Complete Series on Amazon Today. Go ahead, you deserve a laugh.
New shows premiere each fall TV Season. But most shows are not met with the controversy that "Soap" ignited in 1977 when debuting on ABC.
There was backlash from various religious groups, calling it “A low-life, salacious program”, protests from The National Gay Task Force, on the handling of the portrayal of a homosexual character on the show, some ABC Affiliates refused to air the show, and other that did agree to air it, only would in a later time slot, not its scheduled Tuesday 9:30pm scheduled slot.
After a Newsweek article earlier in the year on a possible storyline (Which was later proven to be false), ABC received 32,000 letters, nine didn’t have a problem with the show, but the rest did. Many sponsors also refused to air ads during the show, and there many notes from the network about what scenes or dialogue was permitted.
So just why was there all this backlash and controversy? What was “Soap” about? Well, it was a sitcom, that was also a spoof day time soap operas. Basically the show took all the melodramatic story lines viewers had seen (And still see) on daytime soap operas (And later night time ones, this was pre “Dallas” and “Melrose Place”) but played them for laughs, and its continuing storylines didn’t end in just one half hour episode, and when one storyline was later concluded, another began, which added to the fun.
There was even a narrator who at the beginning of each new episode would give a recap of what happened previously (Remember, this was 1977, before DVRs, or Internet spoilers, or being able to watch a show online, if you missed an episode, you had to wait for months or summer time before it was rerun). The Narrator (Rod Roddy, later the “Price is Right” announcer) would ask “What will happen next? To find out tune next week to “Soap”.
The continuing storyline of the show revolved around two sisters, Jessica Tate (Katherine Helmond) who had married rich, and Mary Campbell (Cathryn Damon) whose family was blue collar, and the spouses and children of both in the fictional setting of Dunn’s River, Connecticut.
Jessica was a spacey, but kind hearted socialite married to rich, pompous stockbroker Chester Tate, (Robert Mandan) who unbeknownst to Jessica, was having many extra marital affairs, and now was being blackmailed by his secretary/mistress. Their promiscuous daughter Corrinne (Diana Canova) was still in love with her former high school boyfriend Tim (Sal Viscuso) who was now a Priest, and fought off her advances.
Since Corrine couldn’t have the man she truly was in love with, she began an affair with her tennis instructor Peter (Robert Urich) who was having affairs with most of his female students, including Jessica, who had begun an affair with Peter, because she was lonely because Chester was never home due to his philandering. Neither Jessica or Corrinne knew the other was sleeping with Peter. Got all that so far? Oh wait…were just getting started.
Other residents of the Tate household included Chester and Jessica’s other daughter Eunice (Jennifer Salt) a reporter secretly having an affair with a married congressman. 13 year Billy Tate (Jimmy Baio) was a smart aleck, dealing with puberty. Jessica and Mary’s father, known only as “The Major” (Arthur Peterson) was a shell shocked World War II Veteran who still thought the war was going on, and last but not least, Benson (Robert Guillame) the level headed sarcastic Tate family butler who couldn’t stand Chester, but stayed because he loved the rest of family, who needed his help to hold things together.
Meanwhile, across town, Mary lived with her second husband Burt Campbell (Richard Mulligan) a construction worker and decent fella with one slight problem…impotence. Unbeknownst to Mary, the reason for Burt’s impotence was due to Burt feeling guilty about killing Mary’s first husband, a mob hitman.
Also living in the Campbell household were Mary’s two sons from her first husband. There was Danny (Ted Wass), who also worked for the mob, but wanted out. The Godfather agreed only if Danny killed the man who killed his father…which would be Danny’s Stepfather Burt.
Mary’s younger son Jodie (Played by Billy Crystal, pre “Saturday Night Live” and his successful film career) who was a homosexual, who wants to have a sex change to be with his boyfriend, an in the closet popular pro football player.
Burt also has two sons from a previous marriage, Chuck (Jay Johnson) a ventriloquist who thinks his dummy Bob is real. Chuck is mild mannered and shy, but uses Bob to express a lot of politically incorrect views he feels deep down. Burt’s other son? Well…he turns out to be the previously mentioned Peter, the womanizing tennis pro, who ends up being murdered midway through the first season, though at first we don’t know by who, setting a murder mystery where all the characters are suspects the second half of the first season.
Who did it? Well Jessica ends up being put on trial and found guilty, but we learn she isn’t the real killer, Peter’s real murderer is…well…you’ll have to watch the series (All four seasons available on DVD) to find out.
Storylines used in later seasons episodes include, soap opera staples such as amnesia, child custody battles, convicts, kidnapping, love triangles, revenge, duels, more affairs, cliffhangers, corruption, shocking revelations, shot-gun weddings, scandals, a baby possessed by The Devil, cults, and horny aliens…yes, you read that last one right. Everyone loves horny aliens.
“Soap” ran for four seasons on ABC before being cancelled in 1981, leaving a lot unanswered cliffhangers, but has lived on in reruns. The character of Benson got his own spinoff in 1979, which ran until 1986, and in a 1983 episode, even helped partially resolve one of the unresolved cliffhangers from Soap’s last episode.
“Soap” found a whole new audience in January 1994, when Comedy Central (pre “South Park” era) began airing reruns of the show. Originally it only aired at 7:30pm weeknights, but soon became the network’s highest rated series. Just a few months later, Comedy Central began airing it 7:30, 8:00, and 11pm weeknights, and occasionally aired weekend marathons.
As mentioned before, the entire four seasons of “Soap” are available on DVD, either separately by season, or all four seasons as a set. I can’t recommend this series enough, it’s my #2 all-time favorite series after “Cheers”. The first two seasons of “Benson” are also available on DVD, and while not serialized like “Soap”, “Benson” has a more traditional sitcom setting, (And season two features a then unknown Jerry Seinfeld, appearing in three episodes) It’s a funny show worth checking out. Burt and Benson were tied as my two favorite characters, and actor Robert Guillaume, who sadly recently passed away, was an excellent actor, giving top notch performances in both series.
“Soap” was created by veteran TV Writer Susan Harris, who perhaps had her greatest success with creating “The Golden Girls” in 1985. According to a recent book on The Golden Girls, Rue McClanahan was originally cast as Mary Campbell on “Soap” but declined, because she wanted to play Jessica, whom she thought was a more interesting character, but that part had been already cast with Katherine Helmond, who later in 1984, would go onto play Mona on “Who’s the Boss?” Richard Mulligan (Burt) later starred in “The Golden Girls” spin-off “Empty Nest”.
Susan Harris wrote just about every episode of the first two seasons herself, and even appeared on screen in two episodes in Season One as a prostitute named Babette. Having created many hit shows, Harris says her favorite to write for was “Soap”, with great writing and a great cast, I’m going to shut the hell up now, and let you check it out for yourself.