PIONEERS OF TELEVISION
Standup comedians who landed sitcoms, TV doctors and nurses, standout comedy actors, and the people who broke the color barrier on television, are the subjects explored when Pioneers of Television, offering inside stories from some of America’s most beloved television stars.
The Emmy-nominated series reveals intriguing behind-the-scenes stories and fascinating facts about television’s most well-known and influential celebrities.
Interviews with legendary stars, including Robin Williams, Roseanne Barr and Dick Van Dyke, and never-before-seen images mix with timeless footage that continues to entertain TV viewers decades later. Pioneers of Television’s first-hand look at the medium is guided by the stories of television icons who appear in memorable footage and reminisce about the iconic genres they helped popularize.
“We are thrilled to bring another season of Pioneers of Television to PBS,” said executive producer Steve Boettcher, who, along with producing partner Mike Trinklein, has helmed numerous specials and series on television’s breakthrough performers. “From stars that had Americans howling with laughter in front of their television screens, to the ones who broke barriers – and maybe even some who saved lives – this season’s line-up features legends who paved the way for contemporary television.
Born of the vaudevillian era, TV variety programs carried the traditions of comedy, song, dance and sketch performance into America’s living room and into a new era of entertainment. This genre of television programming pushed the boundaries of social satire and challenged the pace at which shows progressed.
“They would say, ‘Slow it down,’” says director George Schlatter, who produced “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.” “I’d say, ‘No, people will understand it.’ They’d say, ‘But they’ll miss the jokes.’ I said, ‘So what? there’s another one coming along in just a few moments,’” he says.
From Ed Sullivan — whose stodgy on-air presence belied an unmatched ability to spot and highlight talent — to the socially conscious Smothers Brothers, variety programming mirrored the tastes of the day and introduced America to the latest, greatest talent. Often the shows centered around music and live performance, where anything — good or bad — could happen live for a whole nation to see.
Americans began listening to game shows on the radio and were immediately hooked on the excitement and thrill of competition. As television came of age in the 1940s and ’50s, game shows made a natural transition to the new medium. There’s something about watching contestants match wits onscreen: We love to play along, shouting answers at the television.
“We play games at home, we play games at parties, we go to clubs and play games. Americans love games,” says Bob Barker, host of the long-running “The Price Is Right.”
Some game shows were edgy, such as “The Newlywed Game,” or they could be educational, such as “Jeopardy.” Some even disillusioned us.