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At Large with Tom Williams > > Inside classic television

I Love Lucy ‘I Love Lucy’ is one of the most heralded television programs of all time, still running in syndication after six decades. It’s one of three programs that ended its network run after a season in which it was rated the No. 1 show on television. It is September, when the leaves get ready to turn, football starts again, a lot of the tourists leave the Jersey Shore for another year and television begins a new season.

Many television series have already started and most others will premiere in the next two or three weeks. On Sunday, the television industry will honor itself when the 65th annual Emmy Awards ceremony airs on CBS starting at 8 p.m.

Television has played an important part in our lives. It has made the world smaller, transporting us to events happening all over the globe. And there have been memorable programs that have brought us countless hours of enjoyment.

This week, with the spotlight about to be turned on the industry’s best on Sunday, it seems like a good time to look behind the scenes of some programs many of us have enjoyed.

“I Love Lucy” is one of the most heralded television programs of all time, still running in syndication after six decades. Lucille Ball gets most of the credit for that success because of her great slapstick comedy skills. But her husband, Desi Arnaz, is frequently overlooked.

Oh, he was an asset on camera (“Lucy, you got some splainin’ to do!”) but his greatest work was behind the camera. He created the three-camera shoot, which is standard in sitcoms today, and he realized that Lucy needed a live audience to be at her best, so he added one.

In addition, Arnaz was the first to use summer reruns to build audience. “I Love Lucy” is one of three programs that ended its network run after a season in which it was rated the No. 1 show on television. The others were “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Seinfeld.”

Quincy ‘Quincy’ introduced audiences to forensic medicine as a source of crime-solving, a theme that is used in a lot of crime programs today. “Quincy” was a popular show in the ’70s and ’80s, a vehicle for Jack Klugman, cashing in on his popularity from “The Odd Couple,” but with a different type of role. It was a show that pretty much introduced audiences to forensic medicine as a source of crime-solving, which is in use on a lot of crime programs today.

Viewers are never told Quincy’s first name on the show, although there were a couple times when the first initial “R” was visible. He was just called “Quince” by his friends.

Quincy ran for 148 episodes and Klugman appeared in 147. He refused to appear in one show where a corpse in the coroner’s lab turns out to still be alive. He believed that the viewers would not believe the story and declined to be part of it. The writers substituted a guest star and wrote Quincy out of the story.  

“The Golden Girls” was a giant hit in the ’80s and early ’90s. Most viewers did not realize that Estelle Getty, who played the mother of Bea Arthur’s character on the show, was actually more than a year younger than Arthur. Before every taping, Getty was in the makeup chair for nearly three hours.

Golden Girls ‘The Golden Girls’ is one of only three shows in TV history that saw four lead actors all win Emmys – the others are ‘All In The Family’ and ‘Will and Grace.’ Arthur had originally declined to do the show because in the original casting Rue McClanahan and Betty White played opposite roles – McClanahan was the naïve Minnesotan and White the promiscuous one. Arthur thought that was just a continuation of McClanahan’s role on “Maude,” and White’s character on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and that the audience would get tired of it.

When they switched the parts, Arthur agreed to jump in.

Arthur, McClanahan, White and Getty all won Emmys for their performances. Only two other shows in TV history saw their four lead actors all win Emmys – “All In The Family” and “Will and Grace.”

Television has changed since those programs were part of network schedules. There are “reality” shows, most of which are anything but real, and what seems to be far too many sports analysis, political and cooking shows. Most of us who get more than 150 channels probably only watch programming on less than one third of them. But we have the freedom to choose the shows we enjoy, and that is good.

There are some very good programs on television these days. There is “The Newsroom,” “The Good Wife,” “Treme,” “Downton Abbey,” “NCIS,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Simpsons,” “Under The Dome,” “Falling Skies,” Scandal” and those two programs that form an hour four nights a week and have changed late night TV – “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.” Let’s add a personal favorite to the list – “Franklin and Bash,” and sadness at the cancellation of “Vegas,” “Deception,” Southland” and “Touch.”  

“Boardwalk Empire” probably belongs on that list, too – at least about 85 percent of it. The show is well cast and well executed, but excessively violent and bears virtually no resemblance to what it really was like in Atlantic City during the era of the show.

Anyway, there has been some outstanding television through the years, programs that have created great memories. And there are so many to choose from now that most of us can find the ones we like.

Enjoy the Emmys.


Words of Wisdom: “And so, we come face to face with just how stupid lawyers think we are. Do you know what it says on a box of chocolate pudding mix? ‘Caution, pudding will get hot when heated.’ Go to a hotel – do you know what it says on a shower cap in the bathroom? ‘Fits one head.’ Look at the box your iron came in. It says, ‘Warning, do not iron clothes while wearing them.’ Do we really have to slow down for these people.”

– Actor Thomas Sadoski, playing Don Keefer on “The Newsroom”

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