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Friday, November 7, 2014

Television For And About Jews.

It used to be, when I was growing up, that TV was much more for and about Jews than it is now.
That's because there hadn't yet been such a thing as a coaxial cable.
Before that, TV was geared pretty much for people in New York City who could afford TV sets.
You know.
Jews.
That's when Sid Caesar was lauded and dominated the airwaves.
Then, after the coaxial cable was laid, around 1958, people in Utah had TV sets, Lawrence Welk owned the airwaves, and Sid Caesar went on a twenty year drunk.
Catering to Jews then became non-existent.
The opposite held forth.
Networks shied away from Jews-in-front-of-the-cameras in droves.
Caesar, Phil Silvers, Milton Berle, Molly Goldberg, Jack Benny, Groucho Marx, George Burns, all gone.
All the Borscht Belt comedians gravitated to Ed Sullivan, where they never left until he did.
The was no Alan King Show, no Henny Youngman Show, and no Myron Cohen Show.
No, Sullivan was their only refuge.
So who did we have left?
Gleason. Irish.
Perry Como, Dean Martin, Italian.
Andy Williams, non-descript American.
Red Skelton, descript American.
Donny and Marie, Utah.
Sonny, Italian.
Cher, I didn't know what the hell she was, but I know it wasn't Jewish.
Jerry Lewis couldn't make a go of it on TV.
They didn't want Carl Reiner playing himself, so they got Dick Van Dyke.
Dinah Shore made every effort to hide the fact that she was Jewish, and got away with it for quite a while.
The Jews were all writers, and behind the cameras.
Oh, every once in a while, the networks got a little brave.
They gave Jackie Mason a sitcom.
Thirteen weeks, and out.
In 1976, there was a successful movie called "Next Stop, Greenwich Village", about a young Jewish boy breaking away from his parents to go share an apartment in the Village.
The following year, due to the aura surrounding me due to the success of "Laverne and Shirley", I was approached by CBS to surreptitiously adapt "Next Stop Greenwich Village" into a half-hour sitcom.
I was as surprised as anyone, knowing the history of such things.
But somebody managed to convince somebody of something, and pretty soon, a pilot for this idea was in the works.
And even more surprisingly, it sold.
We had Pat Carroll and Jack Kruschen as the parents, and a very young Adam Arkin as the breakaway son.
It was called "Busting Loose", and ran for a full season in 1977.
What was not surprising at all was that after about six weeks, CBS begged, yea pleaded for us to tone down the Jewishness.
Pat Carroll and Jack Kruschen were virtually written down, if not out, and the show became a slightly older gang comedy, on the order of "Happy Days", with not one mezuzah in sight.
I bring all this up because on my cable system here in Chicago, I have found a network that is blatantly bucking the trend:
The Jewish Life Network.
It is all, and I mean ALL things Jewish.
I will go into detail about it's programming next time.
Until then, shabat-shalom, everyone.


********

My books ,"Show Runner" and it's sequel, "Show Runner Two", can be found at the Amazon Kindle Store.
Along with the newer ones, "The Man Is Dead", and "Report Cards".
You can search by typing in my name, Cindy Williams, Laverne and Shirley, The Odd Couple, or Happy Days.
Check them out.
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If you'd like one of the paperbacks, personally autographed, contact me at macchus999@aol.com.
And now, we've got my reading of my "Laverne and Shirley Movie" screenplay on YouTube, and my 4-hour interview at the Television Academy's Emmy TV Legends Website.
Here's the link:
http://www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/mark-rothman

*****

11 comments:

  1. I've long been fascinated by broadcasting history (a big part why I enjoy Mark's blog), but I had never had considered this most interesting perspective about Jews' early contributions to TV and how they changed. I well-remember and loved those Borscht Belt comedians on Sullivan!

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  2. SEINFELD turned all that around in 1990.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I dunno... It's Garry Shandling's Show sort of laid the groundwork for Seinfeld, no? And Larry Sanders began its run in 1992.

      I remember watching The David Steinberg Show with my parents in the mid-seventies. Maybe that was a made-in-Canada production and not available in the U.S.?

      (Re-posted to correct a boo-boo.)

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  3. I always thought Seinfeld was the best sitcom ever, uh, well, except for maybe, you know, The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and She's the Sheriff! (Did I miss any?)

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  4. Seinfeld was the exception, which is probably why it was almost yanked as soon as it started.
    The Odd Couple were a couple of Jews.
    Neil Simon always closeted his all-Jewish characters in non-descript non-ethnic names.
    But they were Jews.
    None of my shows were as good as Seinfeld.

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  5. Very interesting Mark. I've never seen anybody write about this topic before. I know Danny Kaye had a variety show in the Sixties. Why do you think he was the exception to the rule?

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  6. There were exceptions here and there. Sammy Davis Jr. had a variety show in the sixties too. Neither lasted that long.
    Carol Burnett lasted forever.

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  7. There is a chance you are qualified to receive a $1,000 Amazon Gift Card.

    ReplyDelete
  8. There's a chance you are qualified for a complimentary Apple iPhone 7.

    ReplyDelete

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About Me

Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at macchus999@aol.com. Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."