Thursday, October 30, 2003
Days of Live Television: ‘A Wild Time’
By ROGER M. GRACE
On live television, there was falling scenery, muffed lines, and missed cues. From the standpoint of audiences, gaffes gave rise to laughs. To performers, on-air disasters weren’t funny.
Veteran director William Asher told me in an interview that live television was “suspenseful and dangerous,” but added: “I loved it.”
Asher, whose credits include “Bewitched” (starring his wife, Elizabeth Montgomery, since deceased) and “I Love Lucy,” recalled a mishap one Sunday while he was directing the “Dinah Shore Show.” A round curtain was lowered onto the stage so the star could do a quick change.
“The curtain went up in the middle of the change,” he said.
Asher added that the singer “was not terribly exposed.”
One week, he said, it looked like the Sunday night show could not be staged live. An actor’s strike was scheduled to go into effect that day.
“We got the actors together,” Asher said. “We had to do the show Saturday.”
A kinescope was shot.
As it happened, however, “there was no strike,” he said, and that night, the network called and advised him that “they would not accept a kinescope.”
“It was a nightmare,” Asher remarked. “Getting everybody back was tough.”
He said he had to go to the Beverly Hills Hotel to cajole guest star Sid Caesar to remain in Los Angeles to do the show again, this time on live TV, rather than returning to his home on the east coast Sunday.
Asher also brought to mind a crime show on which the script called for the police to remove a suspect’s coat and roll up his sleeve so that he could be injected with truth serum. “On the show, they took off his coat—and the sleeve was already rolled up from dress rehearsal,” the director recounted.
Here are other examples of early TV blunders:
•Lloyd Thaxton, who was later to host a nationally syndicated dance show, was a local announcer in the late 1950s. He recalled when he once botched a commercial on the Oscar Levant Show, causing guest Steve Allen to break up. Thaxton was doing a commercial for White Front Stores, and was supposed to start out by saying: “The White Front folks want you to know….” Instead, he began: “The white folks want you to know….”
“It was a wild time in television,” Thaxton commented.
•Veteran actress Peggy Webber, who is director/writer/producer of contemporary radio dramas, told me in an e-mail:
“Nothing compared with the heart attacks many of my colleagues experienced in early TV trying to change costumes and make entrances a block away. Some even made entrances after they were shot dead.”
She mentioned a mishap experienced by the late actor Lou Krugman on one of her live TV shows. As she remembered it: “He walked through a door after brushing himself off when the red light went out and walked right into the next set where the camera was on, muttering to himself, ‘Thank God that’s over!’ ”
•A rare flub by Ed Reimers (who hosted KTTV’s “Movieland Matinee” and was a station announcer) was recounted in an article in a 1955 edition of TV Guide. Reimers was supposed to tell viewers that a peanut butter (presumably Skippy’s) tasted just like fresh, roasted peanuts. Instead, he declared: “It doesn’t taste at all like peanuts,” shocking himself as the words came from his mouth.
•Another blooper from the 1950s was told of by Steve Harvey in his L.A. Times column of Feb. 16, 1990. He reported on a Greater Los Angeles Press Club event, writing:
“KTLA-TV newsman Stan Chambers, the emcee, recalled the anything-could-happen days of live TV, as exemplified by the time bandleader Spade Cooley delivered a lead-in for what was supposed to be a baby food commercial.
“ ‘Mothers, if you’re having trouble with your kids, listen to this message,’ he said.
“The broadcast then cut away to the studio, where an announcer added:
“ ‘Feed ’em Snairol! It’ll kill the little pests.’ ”
•From the May 22, 1953 New York edition of TV Guide came these submissions by readers to the “Bloopers” column:
“They recently read the criminal’s jail term on Dragnet thusly: ‘Not more than five and not less than 15 years.’ ”
“Durward Kirby must have been embarrassed on that coffee commercial. When the camera comes in for the closeup one is supposed to read: ‘Pure—nothing added’ on the jar. However, Durward turned the jar slightly and what he read was ‘Pure—nothing.’ ”
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company
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