The headline on March 13, 1933, was a bold-face national one: Banks across the country were set to re-open following a week-long forced holiday brought on by Depression-fueled panic. But there was other news around the country this Monday.

In D.C., the Volstead Act was amended to allow for the sale of low-alcohol beer. In New York City, the latest Time magazine was published, featuring Adolf Hitler on the cover. In Queens, future Elvis songwriter Michael Stoller (of Lieber & Stoller) was born, his “Hound Dog” just 20 years away. …


Who’s Buried in Grant’s Toomb? An Historic Prime-Time Character We’ve Long Forgotten, for Starters…

(ABC 1972–1973)

Swallowed up this past weekend by the gaping maw that is social-media-presented news (not to be confused with Wolf Blitzer-presented Breaking News on CNN, the network that’s re-defined the term once reserved for assassinations and earthquakes as “If I’m saying it for the first time since the last time I said it, then it’s breaking news”):

A much less incendiary but no less significant cultural event — the 48th anniversary of a summer-replacement sitcom that no one remembers.

ABC’s The Corner Bar lasted just 16 episodes…


Who Knows Where Great TV Moments Can Come From

It lasted just 90 episodes over barely four seasons, at a time when sub-100 totals were deemed failures and runs of seven-plus years were the norm. Still, WKRP in Cincinnati, which aired on CBS from 1978 to 1982, made its mark.

An ensemble comedy set at a struggling radio station, WKRP was equal parts conventional and subversive, obvious and sly. At its best, its writing and performances made episodes soar where other better-rated or longer-lasting sitcoms merely flew.

One episode in particular, which aired in February 1980.

Its roots tie to…


Another sign of Hollywood’s changing times

A long time ago on a TV network far away — CBS, during the 1970s — one of its most popular series was The Carol Burnett Show.

Broadcast starting in 1967, the variety showcase was produced at CBS, too. On a soundstage at its west-coast headquarters. In a place called Television City.

Really: Television. City.

Watching the show back then as a TV-entranced kid in Philadelphia — I watched every one of its 279 episodes through 1978 (though, for perspective, it should be noted that I watched every episode of everything back then) —…


The Year That Satan Crashed the Holiday Party

(Warner Bros.)

The stories aren’t just legend. Some people did actually become ill in their seats. Others did actually pass out. In December 1973, moviegoers were having a devil of a time getting through screenings of a new film called The Exorcist.

Forty-five years ago this month, the demonic-possession drama based on the 1971 William Peter Blatty novel shook up both the crowds and the box office. And it went on to become one of the most influential and popular films of the decade.

But oh the horror.

Ellen Burstyn starred, portraying a mother…


Archie, Kunta, Latka … Holocaust, Sybil, MansonHooterville, Munich, Dallas … Women’s Lib, Wounded Knee, Brown Pride … The 1970s had it all, and TV showed it all, warts and all.

In the very first week of the very first year of an entirely new decade — the 1970s — these were among the episodes of TV that aired in prime-time:

“When Darrin is conflicted between a business trip to Japan and staying at home with his new baby, mother-in-law Endora splits him into two people.” (Bewitched January 1 1970)

“Marcia wants to nominate her new Dad as Father of the…


In July of 1978, seven words from comedian George Carlin resulted in the Supreme Court offering a few of its own in response.

The idea that seven words can be deemed so offensive as to be banned from television seems almost charming in 2018. But forty year ago, in July of 1978, a five-year freedom-of-speech battle ended with the nation’s highest court ruling that, in effect, the seven were indeed out of bounds. It sparked a war of words that’s still being fought today.

In 1973, John Douglas, while driving in his car with his 15-year-old-son, tuned in to local…


Middle America Is Speaking Out … Unless It’s Not

Fourteen years ago, I was part of a panel of TV-industry people speaking to college students about the changing nature of the industry. The panel featured speakers who represented all manner of that change — broadcast, cable, online, writers, producers, providers. I was last to speak.

Second-to-last was a 20-something who was in the headlines at the time in connection with a big-ticket online content-and-distribution start-up. He preened a bit. I don’t remember much of what he said, since it had more to do with him than with the topic at…


The time when even Edith Bunker had a hard time at Christmas

Of the handful of reasons that seem to make the two-part “Edith’s Crisis of Faith” holiday episode of 70s classic All in the Family remarkable — that it questioned the existence of God, that it preached gender tolerance long before the idea went viral, that in airing on Christmas night it marked an actual original episode of TV on a night long since given up to repeats, that it even aired at all on broadcast television given its content — what’s most noteworthy is that the award-winning episode…


Still Surviving After All These Years

A long long time ago I wrote a newspaper essay about my mother’s death. A few months after it ran, on the second day of a then-new job, a colleague my age introduced himself and in the brief conversation that followed asked how I came to be hired. When I mentioned that I’d been a writer, I cited the essay, when asked, as something he might have seen or read. At which point the colleague took me aside and in a whisper wondered if it would be wrong of him to share the piece with a friend of his dealing…

Jim McKairnes

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