Monthly Archives: January 2009

Bert Parks’ Bandstand

Bert Parks is probably best (only?) remembered for his years hosting the annual Miss America pageant. That’s a shame because he was a star on Broadway (among other gigs, he replaced Robert Preston in The Music Man) and he hosted dozens of game and variety shows. Bert Parks’ Bandstand was a daytime radio show based on the arguable premise that audiences didn’t want any of that new “rock-and-roll” music some kids were buying. They still wanted the Big Band sound…and that’s what Bert gave them, thanks to a fine big band under the baton of Skitch Henderson. Radio audiences kept it on for years but a TV version called NBC Bandstand didn’t do as well. The show debuted July 30, 1956 and had its last broadcast on November 23 of that year. It was replaced by a new show called The Price is Right.

That’s Life

That’s Life was an extremely original and daring concept in TV: An hour-long ongoing sitcom and musical comedy that each week featured songs (some written for the show, some not) and dances. Robert Morse was the star and the show had something of the feel of his hit, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. He played a young man named Robert Dickson while E.J. Peaker played his new wife, Gloria Quigley.

Each week, we got another chapter of their evolving life together, and there were guest stars aplenty. Among those who appeared, sometimes more than once as recurring characters, were Ethel Merman, Mel Tormé, Phil Silvers, Leslie Uggams, Paul Lynde, Vikki Carr, Mahalia Jackson, Alan King, Robert Goulet, Tony Randall and Liza Minnelli. Shelley Berman and Kay Medford turned up often as Gloria’s parents. The show also found ways to incorporate musical groups and their hits into its plot each week. On the first episode, which aired September 24, 1968, The Turtles sang “Eleanor.”

The above ticket is for August 18 and it’s for the second episode, which was telecast October 1 and told the story of how Bobby decided to ask Gloria to marry him. During the course of the hour, guest star Nancy Wilson sang “Marriage Blues,” E.J. Peaker sang, “It Must Be Him,” Morse sang, “Embarrassment of Riches,” Morse and Peaker sang “Our Love is Here to Stay” and”The Two of Us,” and Wilson and Peaker sang, “To Get a Man.” Guest stars Tim Conway and Jackie Vernon didn’t sing.

The series was a critical hit but that was about it. Audiences never discovered it…or if they did, they didn’t much like what they were watching. Twenty-six episodes were produced with the last airing April Fool’s Day of ’69. There were a few week of reruns and then the timeslot (Tuesday nights at 10) was given over to one night of a thrice-weekly Dick Cavett Show. That’s Life was never rerun again, which is a shame. It was one of those shows that deserved more of a chance.

CPO Sharkey

Johnny Carson used to joke that Don Rickles had had his finger in more pilots than an Air Force Proctologist. There was a time there when Rickles was appearing in an amazing array of unsold pilots and even a few that made it to series and didn’t last long. His longest run — it actually lasted a year and a half — was with CPO Sharkey, a sitcom that attempted to turn the insult comic into a latter-day Sgt. Bilko. In fact, the series was even created and masterminded by Aaron Ruben, who’d worked extensively on You’ll Never Get Rich (AKA The Phil Silvers Show, AKA Sgt. Bilko).

“CPO” stood for Chief Petty Officer. Sharkey presided over a mixed ethnic group of sailors, each of whom he derided in the Rickles style. Many of his insults were saved for Seaman Pruitt, a 6’7″ hick played by Peter Isacksen. Rickles was 5’6″ and so delivered a lot of acidic lines to Isacksen’s chest.

The show lasted 37 episodes and the above ticket was probably for one of the last ones taped. They were all done on Stage 3 at NBC, which is where Jay Leno now does his show. This is directly across the hall from Stage 1 where Johnny Carson did The Tonight Show for so many years. One of the few reasons CPO Sharkey is remembered is because of one night when Carson — allegedly spontaneously but probably planned in detail — took his cameras across the hall and interrupted a Rickles taping. The night before on Tonight, appearing with guest host Bob Newhart, Rickles had accidentally broken Carson’s cigarette box. So right in the middle of taping a scene, Don looks over and there’s Johnny Carson, walking in with a hand microphone and a busted cigarette box to demand an apology. It was very funny and the incident bolstered the ratings of CPO Sharkey…for a while. Like all TV shows starring Don Rickles, it didn’t last long.

Hudson Brothers Show, The

No sooner was The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour a hit than its producers, Allan Blye and Chris Bearde, sought to replicate that success on Saturday morn with an act called The Hudson Brothers. Promoting Bill, Brett and Mark Hudson as the seventies version of Groucho, Harpo and Chico, CBS launched them as the summer replacement for Sonny and Cher, with a show that aired in primetime from 7/31/74 to 8/28/74. This segued into the half-hour Saturday AM version, which was called The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show. That one lasted one year, commencing 8/7/74.

Both shows featured zany sketches and music (the Brothers had some modest record hits around then) and a family of regulars that included Gary Owens and Rod Hull. Rod Hull was an Australian comedian who worked with a large bird puppet called Emu. You can read all about Rod here.

Oddly enough, the primetime version — which had only been intended to launch the brothers in preparation for their Saturday morn show — probably fared better. There was talk of later bringing it or them back in some format but the act instead drifted through other venues and the Hudsons went their separate ways.