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.”
The genres highlighted in this season of one-hour Pioneers of Television episodes include:
This episode traces the story of people of color on American television — including the mid-1960s breakthroughs of African Americans Diahann Carroll (“Julia”) and Bill Cosby (“I Spy”). Latino landmarks range from “I Love Lucy” with Desi Arnaz to “Miami Vice” with Edward James Olmos. Also featured are Asian-Americans like George Takei (“Star Trek”), who details his youth spent in a Japanese internment camp.
This episode peeks behind the curtain to reveal the backstage techniques of America’s favorite comedic actors. The program features the manic improvisational style of Robin Williams, along with his comic predecessor Jonathan Winters. They’re a fascinating contrast to Tina Fey, who explains her measured, highly prepared approach. The episode also highlights the all-time #1 Emmy winner for comedy acting: Cloris Leachman.
Comedian Jackie Gleason had a well-rated variety show in 1955 that he gave up in favor of playing just one character: Ralph Kramden, a bickering bus driver who was the centerpiece of a new situation comedy, “The Honeymooners.” It was a bold move, but Gleason had already created the four core characters in CBS’ “Jackie Gleason Show,” and he understood the power a strong character and a continuing storyline can wield. While “The Honeymooners” didn’t catch on as he’d hoped — the groundbreaking sitcom finished after only 39 episodes — the episodes gathered a cult following and are now revered as some of America’s best classic television.
For 30 years “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” starred the boy from Nebraska who never seemed to lose his quick smile and friendly demeanor. His ratings remain the highest in the history of late night television. But Carson and many others in this crowded field — Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and David Letterman among them — owe much to funny man Steve Allen, who broke the plane between stage and viewer and pioneered the first audience participation gags that dominate late night comedy today.