Posts Tagged ‘television’

Mary Tyler Moore, WJM, and the NFL

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

Her smile turned the world on, her accessibility proved that love is all around, and her personality made nothing days worthwhile more suddenly than Marcia Brady saying something came up in order to break a date with nice guy Charlie for Doug Simpson, the big man on campus.

Mary Tyler Moore made it after all.

When the news broke that she died, we were reminded of a woman who championed diabetes research; reflected the modern woman of the 1970s in her eponymous situation comedy; led a television production company that brought landmark sitcoms and breakthrough dramas to prime time; changed Hollywood’s conception of her acting range with an Oscar-winning performance of a heartless, upper middle class mother in suburban Chicago; showed only her legs accompanied by a breathless voice as the secretary to a private detective; and brought television’s depiction of a housewife from the pearls-wearing stereotype in non-descriptive suburban to a three-dimensional template with a splash of sexuality in New Rochelle.

Moore was a 20th century heroine whose likability never fell victim to her success—or her struggles:  alcoholism, Type 1 diabetes, two divorces, and the death of her 24-year-old son from a hair trigger on a sawed-off shotgun.

On September 19, 1970, America met her alter ego, Minneapolis television news producer Mary Richards at WJM on Mary Tyler Moorenot the often used but incorrect label The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  When her name in Peignot font scrolled vertically in multiplicity across the America’s television screens, audiences settled in for a half hour of a sensible, smart, and sophisticated woman trying to balance a career and a social life.  And she did it with style—Moore’s outfits reflected the fashions that a cosmopolitan woman would wear and could afford.

Football played a role on Mary Tyler Moore, most notably during the show’s theme Love Is All Around, which showcases Mary doing everyday activities, including washing her car while wearing a Fran Tarkenton jersey.  Lou Proposes, an episode in the show’s seventh and final season, mentions Tarkenton, a Minnesota Vikings icon.  When Mary’s Aunt Flo—an acclaimed journalist and, in actuality, a distant cousin, on Mary’s mother side, who spent only 26 nights in her apartment during the past year—visits the Twin Cities, she takes a liking to Lou Grant, the Executive Producer of WJM’s 6 o’clock television newscast.  And vice versa.

Lou is about to propose marriage, but he gets sidetracked when Flo mentions that she heard a rumor about the Vikings trading their quarterback while she did research on a story about the team’s offense.  Ultimately, Flo turns down Lou’s proposal.  Gently.

Ed Asner played Lou Grant, the gruff newsman with a guarded sentimental side.  A picture of Asner from his high school football days is visible in every scene that takes place in Lou’s office—it hangs prominently nearby a National Geographic poster titled The Earth’s Moon, which shows the near and the far sides of the Moon.

In the fifth season episode The System, Lou buckles to the success of a betting system created, somewhat arbitrarily, by Ted Baxter, WJM’s clueless but harmless news anchor.  Ted’s system consists of betting the underdog in every NFL game with a point spread of 11 points or more.  He chooses 11 for a simple reason—it’s his lucky number.

Lou and Ted become partners, a bond that Lou breaks on Super Bowl Sunday.  Without telling Ted, he bets all their winnings—$2,000—on the Pittsburgh Steelers covering the point spread in Super Bowl IX.  He discloses this in a scene taking place in Mary’s apartment after the two-minute warning sounds; WJM news writer Murray Slaughter, Ted, Ted’s girlfriend Georgette, and WJM sportscaster Andy Rivers watch the game, after a brunch that Mary prepared.  When Ted walks away from the group, Lou confesses his sin to the others and, with a combination of frustration and somberness, that he made the bet out of ego—he wanted to prove that he was better than Ted’s goofy though successful system.  Lou then explains that Steelers need to score 12 points in the last 26 seconds of the game.

It is deductible, therefore, that the point spread was greater than 11 points and the Steelers were the underdogs.  When Lou owns up to his actions and tells Ted, the news anchor sobs.  In the hands of skilled two-time Emmy winner Ted Knight, his alter ego inspires pathos, friendliness, and laughter.

According to sitcomsonline.com, the episode was produced on December 13, 1974, a month before the Super Bowl.  So, the producers took an educated guess that the Steelers would be the AFC champions.  It was on the mark—the Steelers won Super Bowl IX 16-6.  Their NFC opponent?  The Minnesota Vikings.

This episode aired the night before Super Bowl IX, prompting Moore to record an announcement that played during the closing credits noting that the story is fictional but, in case the Vikings win, “You heard it first at WJM.”

Rest in peace, Mary.

A version of this article appeared on ww.thesportspost.com on January 26, 2017.

The Men Who Portrayed Babe Ruth

Friday, February 17th, 2017

To say that Babe Ruth was a dominant force is like saying that Mount Vesuvius spewed a little lava.

Firmly stands the Babe in popular culture, in part because of portrayals in films.  “The pattern of the drama, with its Horatio Alger stamp—rags to riches and romance—is obviously contrived, and the personal characterizations are all of them second-grade stock,” wrote the New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther of the 1948 movie The Babe Ruth Story.   “Mr. [William] Bendix is straight from the smoke-house and Claire Trevor pulls all the heart-throb stops as a little showgirl who marries the great man and sticks by through thick and thin.”

Bendig was a character actor famed for “playing all manner of lugs, both loveable and dangerous,” according to his biography on the Turner Classic Movies web site.  Credits include the Alfred Hitchcock movie Lifeboat, the Abbott & Costello movie Who Done It?, and the 1964 thriller Seven Days in May.  Perhaps Bendix’s best-known role was the title character in the 1950s television series The Life of Riley.

Babe Ruth, a 1991 NBC tv-movie, starred Stephen Lang as the Babe, Donald Moffat as Jacob Ruppert, and Bruce Weitz as Miller Huggins.  Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times lauded, “Lang has some of the size to play Ruth and, with tutoring from Rod Carew, the right-handed actor has developed a fairly convincing left-handed stroke and, with makeup, a prominent nose to match.”  Richard Huff of Variety also praised Lang—“he does his job convincingly.”

Art LaFleur played Babe Ruth in a dream sequence in the 1994 film The Sandlot.  Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, the best player on his sandlot baseball team, has a dream in which he talks with the Yankee slugger, who offers him advice on confronting “The Beast,” a dog guarding the house belonging to the baseball field’s neighbor; balls are gone forever when the kids hit them over the fence.  One particular ball poses a major problem for Scotty Smalls, a newcomer who’s unfamiliar with baseball—he brings a ball owned by his stepfather to the sandlot; it’s signed by Babe Ruth.  When Benny hits it over the fence, it’s gone forever.  Presumably.

Ruth’s ghost counsels Benny, “Everybody gets one chance to do something great.  Most people never take the chance, either ’cause they’re too scared or they don’t recognize it when it spits on their shoes.  This is your big chance, and you shouldn’t let it go by.  Remember when you busted the guts out of the ball the other day?  Someone’s telling you something, kid.  If I was you, I’d listen.”

As Ruth disappears, he offers final words of inspiration:  “Remember, kid, there’s heroes and there’s legends.  Heroes get remembered.  But legends never die.  Follow your heart, kid.  And you’ll never go wrong.”

Eventually, “The Beast” is discovered to be a friendly, humongous dog named Hercules.  His owner is a former Negro League ballplayer, portrayed by James Earl Jones.

In the 1992 film The Babe, John Goodman embodied the Sultan of Swat.  Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote that Goodman was “ideally cast.”  In an interview with Clifford Terry of the Chicago Tribune, Goodman offered insight to Ruth’s boisterous, almost childlike nature.  “I don’t think the Babe had an underlying meanness,” said Goodman.  “It was maybe an emptiness in the middle.  I read an interesting quote that I tried to use as much as I could.  Somebody who knew him quite well was asked about him, and he said, ‘You know, I don’t think Babe ever loved anybody in his life.’  I based most everything on Robert Creamer’s outstanding … biography.  For example, I watched a lot of old film, but I could never figure out how to do Ruth’s home-run trot until I read a simple description of it in the book, and I was in.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 6, 2016.

A New Era in Chavez Ravine

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

Los Angeles suffered a divorce worthy of soap opera status when the controversy of Dodgers ownership became public—Frank and Jamie McCourt engaged in a matrimonial battle that brought disgrace upon the vaunted Dodgers brand and disgust among the team’s loyal fan base.  Plus, their spending habits approximated using the team’s coffers as a personal ATM machine.  Bankruptcy forced a sale.  In the country’s second biggest market, Major League Baseball could not afford a continuous display of greed in an era already tarnished by steroid use.

In her 2015 book The Best Team Money Could Buy, Molly Knight wrote, “But after they moved to Los Angeles their aspirations morphed into an insatiable obsession with status and material possessions.  By 2009 the couple turned on each other, with Frank testing the limits of the amount of money he could borrow, and and Jamie instructing a Dodger executive to draw up a battle plan for her eventual ascendance to the office of president of the United States [sic].”

On May 1, 2012, a new era began in Chavez Ravine—Guggenheim Partners purchased the Dodgers for $2.15 billion.  Led by CEO Mark Walter, Guggenheim boasted Magic Johnson as a minority owner with the credibility required to allow Los Angelenos a sigh of relief when one of its favorite sons appeared ready to restore the Dodgers brand from garnishment to luster.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig offered respect to the devotees who saw more drama in the media’s recounting of the McCourt saga than in the games at Dodger Stadium.  “In addition, I want to personally thank all Dodger fans for their patience and loyalty during this trying period,” said Selig.  “I have said many times that we owed it to them to ensure that the club was being operated properly and would be guided appropriately in the future.  It is my great hope and firm expectation that today’s change in ownership marks the start of a new era for the Los Angeles Dodgers and that this historic franchise will once again make the city of Los Angeles proud.”

Indeed, new ownership cleansed the toxicity plaguing the team.  On 710 ESPN’s Mason & Ireland Show, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly noted, “It’s been a positive since the announcement of Magic and his group.  You could feel a difference with the fans instantly.  There’s been so much negative for the last few years that it just gets kind of old for guys that are playing because people aren’t showing up and it doesn’t have anything to do with if you win or not.”

In a 2015 profile titled “Who Is Dodgers Owner Mark Walter and Where Did He Get All That Money” for laweekly.com, Gene Maddause highlighted the financial health of the Dodgers resulting from an $8.35 billion television contract.  In turn, Walter’s Guggenheim team fought the ghosts of the McCourt era by strategically reinforcing the $2.15 billion investment. Maddaus wrote, “A hundred million for stadium improvements?  Sure.  An $85 million contract for Andre Ethier?  Uh, OK.  How about $18 million a year to Matt Kemp to play for another team?  Why not?”

Guggenheim prioritized the importance of repairing the tattered confidence of the Dodgers, beginning with signing Ethier.  Knight noted, “Even though he was on the decline, and arguably the club’s tenth-best player at that point, the Dodgers re-signed him to a five-year, $85 million extension that raised eyebrows around the league for its generosity.  But the new owners weren’t overpaying an aging outfielder as much as they were purchasing a citywide public service announcement letting fans know the bad times were over.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 15, 2015.

A Stalag 13 Christmas

Friday, December 25th, 2015

RemingtonChristmas television specials dominate prime time during between Thanksgiving and December 25th.  The Hollywood Palace was no exception in 1965.

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The Shows That Changed Television

Sunday, November 1st, 2015

RemingtonTelevision’s progress as a creative medium began, arguably, with I Love Lucy, starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.  When the television series about a ditzy redhead married to a Cuban bandleader premiered on CBS in 1951, it introduced the three-camera format with different sets on a soundstage.

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Lonesome Rhodes, Will Stockade, and Andy Taylor

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

RemingtonCorruption rooted in ego, fame, and power forms the foundation for A Face in the Crowd, a 1957 film; Budd Schulberg wrote the screenplay based on his short story The Arkansas Traveler.

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Thursdays at 10

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

RemingtonFor nearly 30 years, from 1981 to 2009, NBC defined quality television programming in the 10:00 p.m. time slot.  Hill Street Blues debuted in 1981 and changed the production of television drama.

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Lou’s on First

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

RemingtonA statue of Lou Costello stands in Paterson, New Jersey.  It is a reminder of the comedian’s love for his hometown, often referenced by Costello in his performances with Bud Abbott.  Titled “Lou’s on First,” the statue, which Paterson unveiled in 1992, appeared in two scenes of the landmark television series The Sopranos.

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The Doctors Are In

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

RemingtonWhen City Hospital premiered in 1952, it set off the medical genre for prime time television.  Naturally, shows about medical implications offer drama that, in the right hands, captivate audiences.

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The Comedy and Tragedy of Bob Crane

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

RemingtonBob Crane became a television icon with his starring role in Hogan’s Heroes, a comedy set in a POW camp in Germany during World War II.

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