Friday, April 11, 2014

The Ten Highest Rated Television Shows Ever Cancelled Part Two

It is a common assumption that doing well in the Nielsen ratings assures the survival of a television show on the American broadcast networks. It is certainly true that this is usually the case. After all, along with several other factors how well a show performs in the ratings has a direct impact on the advertising rate a network can charge for the show. Put more simply, high ratings can often mean big money.

Unfortunately, while high ratings usually insure the survival of a show, it is not always the case. A number of considerations go into the broadcast networks' decisions when to cancel shows and sometimes even high ratings may not be enough to save a particular show. In fact, throughout television history there have been some very high rated shows that have been cancelled. This is part two of a list of some of the highest rated shows ever cancelled.

Here I must thank my brother +Berry Canote who helped compile much of this list, going season by season to do so. I believe this list to be accurate, but given the Nielsen Company has been doing television ratings since 1950, it is possible that a show may have been left out.

6. The Bionic Woman (Ranked #14 in the Ratings for the Season): On 7 March 1973 ABC aired a television movie entitled The Six Million Dollar Man, very loosely based on the 1972 novel Cyborg by Martin Caidin. Like the novel, the television movie centred on astronaut Steve Austin who, after a catastrophic crash that left him seriously injured, had his legs, his left arm, and his right eye replaced by mechanical prosthetics ("bionic limbs") that were more powerful than the originals. The television movie The Six Million Dollar Movie did so well in the ratings that it was followed by two more television movies: The Six Million Dollar Man: Wine, Women and War on 20 April 1973 and The Six Million Dollar Man: Solid Gold Kidnapping  on 17 November 1973.  The success of these television movies led to a regular series entitled The Six Million Dollar Man, which debuted on 18 January 1974.

The Six Million Dollar Man did very well in the ratings. By its second season (the 1975-1976 television season) it ranked #9 out of all the shows on the air in the Nielsen ratings. During the show's second season, a two part episode aired entitled "The Bionic Woman". In the episode one of Steve Austin's old flames, tennis pro Jamie Summers (played by Lindsay Wagner), has an accident while skydiving that results in her being seriously injured. Her right arm, right ear, and both legs were then replaced with bionic parts. Unfortunately, Jamie's body rejected the bionic parts and she died at the end of the episode. The character of Jamie Summers proved popular, however, so that ABC asked the producers to bring her back. It was then revealed in the debut of episode of The Six Million Dollar Man's third season that Jamie Summers did not actually die and had been saved by being put into suspended animation. The continued popularity of the character Jamie Summers resulted in her being given her own spin-off series. The Bionic Woman debuted on 14 January 1976.

The Bionic Woman proved to be as successful as The Six Million Dollar Man. In fact, for the 1975-1976 season it actually did better than The Six Million Dollar Man in the ratings--it ranked #5 for the season, while The Six Million Dollar Man ranked #7. The Bionic Woman continued to have sterling ratings in its second season (its first full season) as well. It ranked #14 for the 1976-1977 season. Because of its high ratings, it then came as a rather big surprise when ABC abruptly cancelled The Bionic Woman in April 1977.

In newspaper articles at the time, according to Fred Silverman, then President of ABC Entertainment, The Bionic Woman had done well in the ratings until the beginning of 1977 when its ratings started to go into a downward spiral. Mr. Silverman elaborated by saying that its ratings had been marginal--that is, it was receiving between 29 and 31 percent of the audience. He explained in instances like that one has to make a projection and figure out how well the show will perform in the ratings in the coming year. Thinking that the superhero cycle (which had included such shows as The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, and Wonder Woman) was coming to an end, he said that ABC thought "there was no long term potential" in The Bionic Woman. In other words, ABC did not cancel The Bionic Woman for its current ratings, but for the ratings they thought the show would have in the near future. Here it must be noted that ABC also cancelled Wonder Woman at the same time. Wonder Woman was picked up by CBS and went onto run another two seasons. As to The Six Million Dollar Man, it ran only one more season.

ABC's cancellation of The Bionic Woman did not mean the end for the show. NBC picked up The Bionic Woman for the 1977-1978 season. Unfortunately this would only be a temporary reprieve for the show. The ratings for The Bionic Woman on NBC were hardly spectacular and the show was cancelled for a second time. The characters of Jamie Summers and Steve Austin would return in reunion movies, the first of which was The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman in 1987. This was followed by Bionic Showdown in 1989 and Bionic Ever After? in 1994. In the 2007-2008 season re-imagining of the original show, simply titled Bionic Woman, debuted on NBC. The show proved to be a failure in the ratings and was cancelled after only 8 episodes.

7. Mayberry R.F.D. (Ranked #15 in the Ratings for the Season When Cancelled): The Andy Griffith Show was one of the most successful shows of the Sixties. Indeed, it is one of the most successful shows of all time. The lowest that The Andy Griffith Show ever ranked in the Nielsen ratings was #7 for the season. In its final season it was the #1 show on the air, a feat only accomplished by two other shows: I Love Lucy and Seinfeld.  Quite naturally when Andy Griffith decided to leave the show to resume his film career, both CBS and the show's producers wanted to continue it in some way. The character of farmer Sam Jones (played by Ken Berry, recently of F Troop) and his son Mike (Buddy Foster) were introduced in the final season of The Andy Griffith Show and increasingly played a larger role in its episodes as the season progressed. It was then on 23 September 1968 that Mayberry R.F.D. debuted on CBS. The show was essentially The Andy Griffith Show without Andy Griffith. While the show centred on Sam Jones and his son, the supporting cast was almost exactly the same.

As essentially a continuation of The Andy Griffith Show, Mayberry R.F.D. proved fairly successful. For both its first and second seasons it ranked #4 in the ratings. It was still doing respectably well in the ratings when it was unexpectedly cancelled in its third season. Mayberry R.F.D. would be the highest rated victim of what was even then being called "the Rural Purge", CBS' mass cancellation of shows that appealed to either older audiences, audiences living in rural areas, or both.

Although at the time it might have seemed that the Rural Purge was a spur of the moment decision on the part of CBS, it had actually been coming for some time. As early as 1967 CBS had expressed concern over its ageing audience. In an article in a March 1967 issue of Variety it was even reported that CBS was planning to redo its schedule to better compete with NBC for younger viewers. It was that year that CBS cancelled its long running game shows I've Got a Secret and What's My Line because their audiences were simply too old. In May 1969 at the CBS affiliates' meeting the network's president Robert Wood announced "...a young, fresh, new approach to programming" for the network. CBS may have been making plans for what would become known as "the Rural Purge" as early as October 1969. As mentioned earlier, it seems quite likely that part of the reason CBS cancelled The Red Skelton Hour during the 1969-1970 season was that its audience was older and living in rural areas.

Regardless, it was during the 1970-1971 season that CBS cancelled an inordinately large number of shows whose audiences were either too old, too rural, or both. Among the shows cancelled were The Beverly Hillbillies, Green AcresFamily Affair, Hogan's Heroes, To Rome with Love, and The Ed Sullivan Show. While some of these shows had fallen dramatically in the ratings, others were doing relatively well. Mayberry R.F.D. may be the best example of this. While its ratings had fallen from what they had been in its third season, the show still ranked #15 in the ratings for the season. Even as the Rural Purge was taking place there were those who thought Mayberry R.F.D. would be renewed for another season.  As it turned out it wasn't and as a result it became the 3rd highest rated show (after The Red Skelton Hour and Gang Busters) to have been cancelled at the time.

8. Hee Haw (Ranked #16 in the Ratings for the Season When Cancelled): Hee Haw was a country music variety show that combined country music with comedy sketches. In many respects, it could be considered similar to Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, but with country music and without the topical humour. It was hosted by two major country music stars, Roy Clark and Buck Owens. Hee Haw debuted as a summer replacement series on CBS on 15 June 1969 and proved successful enough to be picked up for the 1969-1970 season. The show's ratings were very good. For the 1969-1970 season it ranked #20 in the ratings for the year. It performed even better during the 1970-1971 season, ranking #16 for the year.

Unfortunately for Hee Haw, the 1970-1971 season was the season of the Rural Purge. Like Mayberry R.F.D. Hee Haw was then cancelled despite the high ratings it received. And like Mayberry R.F.D. it was cancelled because its audience was simply too rural. Fans of Hee Haw mounted a letter writing campaign in an attempt to save the show to no avail. While CBS had cancelled Hee Haw and had no intention of returning it to the air, this did not mean the show was dead. Its producers put Hee Haw into syndication where it would run for another twenty one years. It was in 1992, over two decades after it had been cancelled by CBS, that Hee-Haw finally went off the air.

9. Inside Schwartz (Ranked #18 in the Ratings for the Season When Cancelled), tied with The Men from Shiloh: Inside Schwartz starred Breckin Meyer as Adam Schwartz, a sportscaster whose life was portrayed in sports metaphors. Figures from the world of sports regularly appeared on the show in its short run. Inside Schwartz debuted on 27 September 2001 on NBC. It had what could be considered the best possible time slot at the time, in between #1 show Friends and Will & Grace (which was #9 for the season). Not surprisingly, then, Inside Schwartz did very well in the ratings. In fact, it ranked #18 for the 2001-2002 season.

Unfortunately, even great ratings would not be enough to save Inside Schwartz. NBC felt that the show was not retaining enough of the audience of Friends and cancelled it after only airing 9 episodes with four episodes left unaired. It probably did not help that Inside Schwartz received largely negative reviews, with The Los Angeles Times describing it as "a dumb guy show". Its successor in the time slot, Leap of Faith (which I discussed in Part One) would do even better in the time slot, ranking #12 for the season. All the same it was also cancelled.

9. The Men from Shiloh (Ranked #18 in the Ratings for the Season When Cancelled), tied with Inside SchwartzThe Men from Shiloh was not exactly a new show when it aired during the 1970-1971 season.  The show had started out life in 1962 on NBC as The Virginian, the first 90 minute Western television series. The Virginian was loosely based on Owen Wister's 1902 novel of the same name. The show starred James Drury as the title character, the foreman at the Shiloh Ranch in Wyoming in the 1890's. Doug McClure played Trampas. A villain in the novel, on the TV show he was rough and ready, yet congenial cowhand. The Virginian and Trampas remained constants in what would be an ever-changing cast in the following seasons.

The Virginian proved to be a hit from the very beginning, spending seven of its nine seasons in the top twenty five shows. Unfortunately, with season eight the show's ratings dropped. The Virginian was then retooled to make it more appealing to young viewers. A new theme was composed for the show, complete with a new credit sequence. The entire look of the show as changed as well. New characters were added, while some old ones were dropped. Finally, the title of the show was changed from The Virginian to The Men from Shiloh to reflect the changes to the show.

The transformation of The Virginian into The Men from Shiloh certainly helped the show in the ratings. For the 1969-1970 season the show wasn't even in the top thirty for the year. For the 1970-1971 season The Men from Shiloh had risen to #18 in the ratings for the year. Unfortunately, it was not enough to save the show. As mentioned earlier, the 1970-1971 season was the season of the Rural Purge. While CBS cancelled the bulk of shows appealing to rural audiences, older audiences, or both, NBC also cancelled a few shows because of demographics. Among them was The Men from Shiloh. Like Mayberry R.F.D. and Hee Haw, then, The Men from Shiloh fell victim to the network's obsession with the 18-49 demographic.

10. Vegas (Ranked #19 in the Ratings for the Season When Cancelled): Vegas was a period piece loosely based on real life Las Vegas Sheriff Roy Lamb, who held the office from 1961 to 1979. The show was set in the early Sixties and centred on Sheriff Lamb (Dennis Quaid) as he deals with mobster Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis) and other criminals in Las Vegas. It debuted on 25 September 2012 on CBS. Vegas  had a very good timeslot. It originally aired on Tuesday night at 9:00 PM Central, following the #1 show NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles (which ranked #4 for the season).

While Vegas did not receive the ratings of either of those shows, it still did very well in the over all ratings. In fact, it ranked #19 for the season. Unfortunately, while Vegas performed very well in the over all ratings, it did very poorly in the ratings for adults aged 18-49, the demographic that television networks desire the most. It was because of this that in March CBS replaced Vegas on Tuesday night with Golden Boy, a show that did even worse in the ratings for the 18-49 demographic (and the over all ratings, for that matter) and was ultimately cancelled as a result. As to Vegas, it was moved to Friday nights where its ratings fell dramatically. CBS cancelled Vegas on 10 May 2013. In many ways the cancellation of Vegas could be considered the modern day equivalent of the cancellations of many shows during the Rural Purge. Quite simply, it was cancelled because its audience was too old.

Looking at the top ten highest rated shows ever cancelled, it seems clear that it takes more than high ratings to remain on the air. As important as how many people are watching a given show is precisely who is watching a given show. Out of the top ten highest rated shows ever cancelled, The Red Skelton Show, Mayberry R.F.D., Hee Haw, The Men from Shiloh, and Vegas were all cancelled because their audiences were too old, too rural, or both. It is not enough for a show to have high ratings, it must also have high ratings within the 18-49 demographic and high ratings in urban areas at that.

From looking at the top ten highest rated shows ever cancelled it also seems clear that following the #1 show on the air can be something of a curse. While a show is guaranteed high ratings if it follows the #1 show, it can also find itself cancelled if it does not retain enough of the #1 show's audience. Inside Schwartz was cancelled for that reason, and Leap of Faith probably was as well. While other reasons seemed to have played roles in the cancellations of Bridget Loves Bernie and Chicken Soup, following the #1 show on television certainly did not help them.

Finally, it would seem that controversy will kill a show even if it has high ratings. Bridget Loves Bernie was a ratings smash, yet it seems likely that protests from Jewish groups played a large role in the show getting the axe. Chicken Soup did very well in the ratings, but it seems clear that the controversy over Jackie Mason's remarks during the New York City mayoral race insured its demise. More recently CBS cancelled Rob despite the fact that it ranked #25 for the season (according to our list that makes it the 15th highest show ever cancelled). It seems likely that it was cancelled  because many believed it portrayed outright Mexican stereotypes. Quite simply, the fact is that controversy will often kill a show no matter how high its ratings are.

As I said earlier, in the end it would seem that simply having high ratings will not guarantee the survival of a show. Many factors go into the American broadcast networks decisions on whether to renew or cancel a particular show. Sometimes those factors are enough to kill a show no matter how high its ratings are.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Ten Highest Rated Television Shows Ever Cancelled Part One

Nothing lasts forever. This is particularly true of television shows, all of which at some time or another will come to an end. In the case of a few shows their producers (or sometimes their star) will decide that it has run its course and elect to end its production. This was the way in which such shows as M*A*S*H, Cheers, and Seinfeld ended. Unfortunately, the vast majority of shows end when they are cancelled by the network on which they aired. And more often than not cancellation is the result of low ratings.  Indeed, not a few classic shows were cancelled by networks because their ratings were poor.

While most cancellations of television shows have been due to low ratings, it is by no means the only reason television shows are cancelled. In fact, there have been a few cases in which shows were receiving perfectly respectable ratings when they were cancelled. What is more, there have been a few cases in which shows were cancelled that were receiving simply incredible ratings. The simple fact is that even great ratings are sometimes not enough to save a show.

Following is a list of some of the highest rated shows ever cancelled by the American broadcast networks. While I believe this list includes nearly all of the highest rated programmes cancelled over the years, I am not going to say that it is necessarily definitive. The Nielsen Company has provided ratings for the American broadcast networks since 1950. With that many years to cover, it is possible that a few programmes may have been missed. Here I must thank my brother +Berry Canote, who went through television schedules year by year and complied much of the list. His help was invaluable.

1. Bridget Loves Bernie (Ranked #5 for the Season When Cancelled): Bridget Loves Bernie starred Meredith Baxter as a wealthy Irish American school teacher who falls in love with and marries a poor Jewish taxi driver named Bernie (played by David Birney). Bridget Loves Bernie was created by Bernard Slade, who had also developed The Flying Nun and The Partridge Family. It debuted on 16 September 1972 in a choice timeslot, scheduled between All in the Family (then the #1 show on television) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show (then the #10 show on television).  It should then come as no surprise that Bridget Loves Bernie was one of the smash hits of the year. It would rank #5 in the Nielsen ratings for the season.

Unfortunately the phenomenal ratings of Bridget Loves Bernie would not be enough to save it. Centred on the marriage between a Catholic woman and a Jewish man, the show proved very controversial upon its debut. The show came under fire from conservative and orthodox Jewish organisations, who felt it ridiculed the teachings of Judaism, showed intermarriage between Jews and Christians as something favourable, and presented negative Jewish stereotypes. Among the Jewish groups who objected to Bridget Loves Bernie were the Synagogue Council of America, the Commission on Interfaith Activities of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Rabbinical Assembly of America, and the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America. In response to the controversy in a New York Times article from February 1973 then President of CBS Robert Wood pointed out that they had both Jewish and Catholic advisors on the show to insure the show was not offensive and that while the network realised the people who objected to the show were "sincere, concerned people", CBS felt "..if we respond to pressure to cancel the show, we do a disservice to the millions who obviously like it."

In the end CBS cancelled Bridget Loves Bernie in April 1973. Its cancellation came as a surprise to many observers, who assumed it would be renewed given its extremely high ratings. In a Copley News Service article at the time CBS President Robert Wood claimed the cancellation of Bridget Loves Bernie was "absolutely removed" from various Jewish groups' objections to it. Given the fact that the show ranked #5 for the season in the Nielsen ratings, one might have good reason to doubt Robert Wood's statement on the show's cancellation. While CBS may have considered other factors in the show's cancellation, it seems likely that the controversy over Bridget Loves Bernie played a large role in its demise.

2. The Red Skelton Hour (Ranked #7 for the Season When Cancelled):  Red Skelton made his first appearance on radio as a guest on The Rudy Vallee Show in 1937. By 1938 he had replaced Red Foley as the host of the NBC radio show Avalon Time. By 1941 he had his very own show, The Raleigh Cigarettes Program. Red Skelton would remain a constant on radio afterwards and he would remain consistently popular as well.  In fact, the only reason Mr. Skelton did not appear on television prior to the 30 September 1951 debut of The Red Skelton Show on NBC is that his contract with MGM forbade him from appearing on television before then.

Red Skelton proved to be as successful on television as he had on radio. In its first season on NBC The Red Skelton Show was the #4 show for the year in the Nielsen ratings. After two seasons on NBC The Red Skelton Show moved to CBS where it really took off. The show spent 14 of its seasons on CBS in the top 20 shows according to the Nielsen ratings, eight of those seasons in the top ten. It was in 1962 that The Red Skelton Show expanded to an hour and was renamed The Red Skelton Hour. If anything else, it was even more successful in an hour long format. After nineteen years on the air Red Skelton was still very successful on television. The Red Skelton Hour ranked #7 for the 1969-1970 season.

It is for that reason people were surprised when in the spring of 1970 CBS cancelled The Red Skelton Hour. Although few realised it at the time, the network's cancellation of The Red Skelton Hour was a precursor of  the Rural Purge they would undertake the following season. Starting in 1967 CBS grew increasingly concerned that their audience was too old and too rural. The network wanted to attract the young, urban demographic that Madison Avenue found most desirable. In fact, it was during the 1966-1967 season that CBS cancelled its long running game shows I've Got a Secret and What's My Line because their audiences skewed too old. Sadly, while The Red Skelton Hour received phenomenal ratings, its audience was largely older and living in rural areas.

Of course, it seems likely that the largely rural, older audience of The Red Skelton Hour was not the only reason the show was cancelled. Much of it may have simply come down to Red Skelton's salary. Mr. Skelton's contract stipulated that he was to receive a raise in salary every year. By 1970, then, Red Skelton was a very expensive star, and one who was not attracting the demographic that the network wanted. The Red Skelton Hour then became what was at the time the highest rated show ever cancelled.

While CBS had cancelled The Red Skelton Hour, it did not remain off the air for long. NBC picked the show up for the 1970-1971 season, but not without changes. NBC cut the show from an hour to a half hour in length. The network also cut its budget, so that the show did not have the elaborate sets that it had on CBS. The Red Skelton Show did not remain long on NBC its second time around. NBC cancelled it at the end of the 1970-1971 season, although with much lower ratings than it ever had on CBS.

3. Gang Busters (Ranked #8 for the Season When Cancelled): Like Red Skelton, Gang Busters was an import from radio. The show was created by Phillips Lord and debuted under the title G-Men on NBC on 20 July 1935. The show moved to CBS on 15 January 1936, which was also when its name was changed to Gang Busters. Both as G-Men and Gang Busters, the show was an anthology series that adapted real life FBI cases through a deal Phillips Lord had with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

Gang Busters proved to be enormously popular, inspiring a 1942 film serial entitled Gang Busters as well as a series of comic books published by National Periodical Publications starting in 1948. Strangely enough given its success, Gang Busters came to television because of another, younger radio show. Dragnet had debuted on NBC Radio  in 1949 and proved very popular. When Dragnet first came to television, however, its creator and producer Jack Webb had difficulty producing a half hour episode each week.  NBC needed a show to air during the weeks that they did not have episodes of Dragnet. As a result Gang Busters came to television as a temporary show that would alternate weeks with Dragnet until Jack Webb could begin producing weekly episodes.

The television version of Gang Busters debuted on NBC on 20 March 1952. Its format was almost the same as the radio show. It was an anthology show that adapted real life FBI cases. There was only one major difference between the radio version of Gang Busters and its counterpart on television. On radio Gang Busters had a regular host  (among them Lewis Valentine, former New York City police commissioner, and Col.Norman Schwarzkopf Sr., former superintendent of the New Jersey State Police). In contrast, episodes of the television version of Gang Buster were hosted by an actor from that particular episode in the role of the law enforcement official he had played.

Regardless, Gang Busters proved very successful on television. In fact, for the 1951-1952 season it ranked #14 out of the all the shows on the air. Its ratings actually improved for the 1952-1953 season, rising to #8 in the Nielsen ratings for the season. As to the show with which it rotated weeks, Dragnet ranked #4. Unfortunately for the producers of Gang Busters, by 1952 Jack Webb was able to provide NBC with a new episode of Dragnet every week. NBC then cancelled Gang Busters despite the fact that it was the #8 show for the season. Of course, today the sort of ratings that Gang Busters had received would have guaranteed it a spot on the television schedule, even if it had initially been meant as a pinch hitter for Dragnet.

4. Leap of Faith (Ranked #12 for the Season When Cancelled): Leap of Faith was a short lived show that debuted on NBC on 28 February 2002. The show was created by Jenny Bicks, then a writer and producer on HBO's Sex and the City. It starred Sarah Paulson as Faith Wardwell, a young advertising executive who cancels her wedding at the last minute. Lisa Edelstein (who went on to appear on House) played Faith's best friend, while Jill Clayburgh played her mother.

Leap of Faith had an ideal time slot, airing in between Friends (then the #1 show) and Will & Grace (then the #9 show). Not surprisingly, then, Leap of Faith did very well in the ratings. In fact, it ranked #12 for the 2001-2002 season. Despite this, Leap of Faith was cancelled after only six episodes.  It is difficult to say why Leap of Faith was cancelled. Scouring newspaper articles from the time uncovered no meniton of the reasons that NBC might have had  for cancelling a show that was performing very well in the ratings. If I were to offer a guess, it might be that NBC thought Leap of Faith was not holding on to enough of the audience of Friends. This was the reason given for the cancellation of another show that aired between Friends and Will & Grace that same season (more on that in Part Two). Of course, given that Leap of Faith ranked #12 for the season, one has to wonder just how much of the audience of Friends NBC expected any show to retain.

5. Chicken Soup (Ranked #13 for the Season When Cancelled): Chicken Soup starred Jackie Mason as a middle aged Jewish man named Jackie Fisher who becomes romantically involved with an Irish Catholic woman Maddie Pierce (played by Lynn Redgrave). The show debuted on 12 September 1989 on ABC.  Chicken Soup had a plum time slot following Roseanne (which was then the #1 show). As might be expected, it did very well in the ratings. For the season it ranked #13. In the end, however, it was cancelled after only 8 episodes had aired (even though twelve episodes had been made).

Given its premise was very similar to that of Bridget Loves Bernie, one might conclude that Chicken Soup was also cancelled due to a controversy over a romantic relationship between a Jew and a Christian. Unlike Bridget Loves Bernie, however, there was apparently no controversy over the premise of Chicken Soup. Looking back it should come as no surprise that Chicken Soup did not go through the same controversy that Bridget Loves Bernie had. It was only three years later that Love & War debuted on CBS. The show starred Jay Thomas as a Jewish man involved with a Christian woman (initially Susan Dey and later Annie Potts). There was no real controversy over the show and it ran for three seasons.

As to why Chicken Soup was cancelled, in an article from Knight-Ridder newspapers at the time, Jane Gretemeyer of ABC said that the show had been cancelled because it could not hold onto enough of the 7 million viewers who watched Roseanne. Despite ABC's official statements on the cancellation of Chicken Soup, it does seem possible that its cancellation was due to a controversy in which comedian Jackie Mason found himself embroiled at the time. Jackie Mason (who was at the time campaigning for Republican New York City mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani) made comments in an interview with the Village Voice regarding Democratic New York City mayoral candidate David Dinkins, as well as race relations between Jews and African Americans. These comments were widely construed as racist, with the ultimate result being that Jackie Mason no longer campaigned for Rudy Giuliani. It then seems possible, even likely, then that ABC cancelled Chicken Soup more due to Jackie Mason's comments than the fact that Chicken Soup did not retain a lot of the audience for Roseanne. Indeed, it must be pointed out that its replacement, Coach, retained even less of the audience for Roseanne (it ranked 18th for the season), yet it was renewed for another year (in fact, Coach would run for another eight seasons).

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mickey Rooney as Baby Face Nelson

I feel a bit under the weather tonight and not up to writing a full blog entry. Because of that I thought I would leave you with one of the late Mickey Rooney's best (and most unexpected) performances. This is the complete film Baby Face Nelson (1957), in which Mr. Rooney plays the title character. Don't expect Andy Hardy!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Godspeed Mickey Rooney

Legendary actor Mickey Rooney died yesterday, 6 April 2014. He was 93 years old.

Mickey Rooney was born Jospeh Yule Jr. in Brooklyn on 23 September 1920. His father was vaudeville comedian Joe Yule, who would later go onto appear in the "Jiggs and Maggie" movie series. His mother, Nellie, was also a vaudeville performer. Mickey Rooney began his career in entertainment when he was only 17 months old, appearing in his parents' vaudeville act.  His parents eventually divorced and his mother took him to Hollywood. Young Mickey Rooney made his film debut in the short "Not to Be Trusted" under the name "Mickey McBran" when he was only six years old.

It was around 1927 that cartoonist Fontaine Fox advertised for a boy to play the role of Mickey McGuire (one of the characters from his comic strip Toonerville Folks) in a series of live action films. Young Mickey Rooney was cast in the role. Beginning in 1927 with Orchids and Ermine, young Mickey Rooney appeared as Mickey McGuire in 78 different "Mickey McGuire"comedies. He played the role until the mid-Thirties. It was in 1932 that he adopted the stage name by which he would become famous. That  year his mother wanted to take him on a tour of vaudeville theatres as Mickey McGuire. Fontaine Fox objected to this and as a result he became "Mickey Rooney". Starting in 1939 Mr. Rooney took over the voice of the animated character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. He continued providing the voice until 1932.

In the early to mid Thirties Mickey Rooney played other roles than those of Mickey McGuire and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. He also appeared in such films as The Beast of the City (1932), Sin's Pay Day (1932), Fast Companions (1932), Officer Thirteen (1932), The Big Cage (1933), The Life of Jimmy Dolan (1933), Broadway to Hollywood (1933), Half a Sinner (1934), and Blind Date (1934).

It was in 1934 that Mickey Rooney signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. His first film with MGM was Manhattan Melodrama in 1934. In the film he played Clark Gable's character as a boy. Over the next few years he appeared in the films Reckless (1935), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935). Ah, Wilderness! (1935),  and Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936). It was in 1937 that Mickey Rooney first appeared in what might be his most famous role, that of Andy Hardy in the film the film A Family Affair. A Family Affair proved to be immensely popular, particularly because of young Mr. Rooney in the role of teenager Andy Hardy. The film's success would lead to an entire series of "Andy Hardy' films. Thirteen more "Andy Hardy" films were made between 1937 and 1946, with one more film made in 1958.

 It was also in 1937 that Mickey Rooney made his first film with an actress who would become a frequent co-star in his movies. The film was Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937) and the actress was Judy Garland. In the late Thirties Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney appeared together in Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), Babes in Arms (1939), Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (1940), and Strike Up the Band (1940). In the late Thirties Mickey Rooney also appeared in the films Captains Courageous (1937), Slave Ship (1937), Live, Love and Learn (1937), Love Is a Headache (1938), Boys Town (1938), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939), Young Tom Edison (1940), and Rodeo Dough (1940).

Mickey Rooney was at the height of his career in the late Thirties and early Forties. He was the top box office earning star for the years 1939, 1940, and 1941 according to Quigley Publishing's annual Top Ten Money Making Stars Poll. He continued making the popular "Andy Hardy" films well into the Forties. He also made three more films with popular co-star Judy Garland:  Babes on Broadway (1941), Girl Crazy (1943), and Words and Music (1948). He appeared in such films as Men of Boys Town (1941), A Yank at Eton (1942), The Human Comedy (1943), National Velvet (1944), Killer McCoy (1947), Summer Holiday (1948), The Big Wheel (1949), Quicksand (1950), The Fireball (1950), and He's a Cockeyed Wonder (1950). During World War II he served in the United States Army. He earned the Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal. Mr. Rooney also entertained the troops in both the United States and Europe during and following the war.

By the Fifties Mickey Rooney's career had declined from its height in the late Thirties and early Forties, although he still appeared frequently in films. During the Fifties Mr. Rooney appeared in such films as My Outlaw Brother (1951), The Strip (1951), Sound Off (1952), All Ashore (1953), Off Limits (1953), A Slight Case of Larceny (1953), The Atomic Kid (1954), The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), The Twinkle in God's Eye (1955), The Bold and the Brave (1956), Francis in the Haunted House (1956), Magnificent Roughnecks (1956), Operation Mad Ball (1957), Baby Face Nelson (1957), A Nice Little Bank That Should Be Robbed (1958), The Big Operator (1959), The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960), and Platinum High School (1960). In 1958 Mickey Rooney appeared in one last Andy Hardy film, Andy Hardy Comes Home (1958).

It was in the Fifties that Mickey Rooney made his television debut in 1952 in an episode of Celanese Theatre. He had his own sitcom, The Mickey Rooney Show, from 1954 to 1955. He also guest starred on The Milton Berle Show, The Colgate Comedy Hour, Schlitz Theatre, Playhouse 90, Producer's Showcase, December Bride, The Phil Silvers Show, Wagon Train, and G.E. Theatre. Mr. Rooney also appeared on stage in a production of Sailor Beware.

The Sixties saw Mickey Rooney appear frequently on television. He had another sitcom, Mickey, which ran from 1964 to 1965. In 1964 he appeared as a guest on two episodes of The Judy Garland Show. He also guest starred on such shows as Checkmate, Hennesey, Naked City, Frontier Circus, The Dick Powell Theatre, The Jack Benny Programme, Alcoa Premiere, Pete and Gladys, The Twilight Zone, Burke's Law, Rawhide, The Ed Sullivan Show, Combat, The Lucy Show, The Fugitive, The Hollywood Palace, The Dean Martin Comedy Hour, The Jean Arthur Show, and The Red Skelton Show. He provided the voice of Santa Claus for the classic Rankin/Bass Christmas special Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970).

During the Sixties Mr. Rooney appeared in such films as King of the Roaring 20's: The Story of Arnold Rothstein (1961), Everything's Ducky (1961), Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), The Secret Invasion (1964), Twenty-Four Hours to Kill (1965), How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965), Ambush Bay (1966), L'arcidiavolo (1966), Vienna (1968), Skidoo (1968), The Extraordinary Seaman (1969), The Comic (1969), 80 Steps to Jonah (1969), and Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County (1970). He appeared on stage in productions of The Tunnel of Love, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and The Odd Couple.

The Seventies saw Mickey Rooney appear in such films as The Manipulator (1971), Richard (1972), Pulp (1972), The Godmothers (1973), Thunder County (1974), Ace of Hearts (1975), From Hong Kong with Love (1975), Rachel's Man (1976), Find the Lady (1976), The moon and a murmur (1977), The Domino Principle (1977), Pete's Dragon (1977), The Magic of Lassie (1978), Arabian Adventure (1979), and The Black Stallion (1979).  Mr. Rooney appeared frequently on television. He reprised the voice of Santa Claus in the Rankin/Bass specials The Year Without a Santa Claus and Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July. He guest starred on the shows Dan August, NBC Follies, Night Gallery, The Hollywood Squares, and The Merv Griffin Show. He appeared in the TV movie Evil Roy Slade. He appeared on stage in productions of Three Goats and a Blanket, Hide and Seek, W.C., See How They Run, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Sugar, and Alimony. He appeared on Broadway in Sugar Babies.

In the Eighties Mickey Rooney starred on the short lived sitcom One of the Boys. He guest starred on such shows as The Love Boat, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour, and The Golden Girls. He appeared in the TV movies Bill, Bill: On His Own, O'Malley, and Home for Christmas. He provided the voice of Tod in the animated feature film The Fox and the Hound (1981) and Flip in the animated film Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989). He appeared in Odyssey of the Pacific (1982), Lightning, the White Stallion (1986), and Erik the Viking (1989). He appeared on stage in Show Boat, The Laugh's On Me, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and The Sunshine Boys.

In the Nineties Mickey Rooney starred on the TV show The New Adventures of the Black Stallion. He guest starred on such shows as Jack's Place; Murder, She Wrote; Full House; Kung Fu: The Legend Continues; Conan; and ER. He provided the voice of Talbut in the animated series Kleo the Misfit Unicorn. He appeared in such films as La vida láctea (1992), Maximum Force (1992), The Legend of Wolf Mountain (1992), Making Waves (1994), Outlaws: The Legend of O.B. Taggart (1994), Revenge of the Red Baron (1994), Killing Midnight (1997), The Face on the Barroom Floor (1998), Sinbad: The Battle of the Dark Knights (1998), Babe: Pig in the City (1998), and The First of May (1999). He appeared on Broadway in The Will Rogers Follies and elsewhere on stage in Lend Me a Tenor, The Mind with the Naughty ManCrazy for You, and The Wizard of Oz.

From the Naughts into the Teens Mickey Rooney appeared in such films as Topa Topa Bluffs (2002), The Last Confederate: The Story of Robert Adams (2005), Night at the Museum (2006), The Yesterday Pool (2007), Wreck the Halls (2008), Lost Stallions: The Journey Home (2008), Saddle Up with Dick Wrangler & Injun Joe (2009), Gerald (2010), Now Here (2010), Bamboo Shark (2011), Night Club (2011), The Muppets (2011), Driving Me Crazy (2012), The Voices from Beyond (2012), and The Woods (2012). Reportedly Mr. Rooney has a cameo in the upcoming Night at the Museum 3.

Today when people think of Mickey Rooney they inevitably think of him as either Andy Hardy in his younger years or a lovable curmudgeon in his later years. And there is no doubt that he was very good in these roles. If Mr. Rooney's Thirties and Forties vehicles in which he played a teenager and his later films as a congenial, if occasionally cranky, oldster are popular, it is perhaps because of Mr. Rooney's sterling performances in them. That having been said, Mickey Rooney was so much more than Danny Churchill in Girl Crazy and Gus in Night at the Museum. He played many more roles than the All-American teenager or elderly gentleman.

Indeed, many people don't realise that Mickey Rooney starred in a few films noirs in the late Forties and early Fifties. What is more, he sometimes played roles in film noir that were as far from Andy Hardy as one could get. In The Strip (1951) Mickey Rooney played a Korean War veteran (with a good deal of psychological baggage) turned night club drummer who becomes involved with a gangster running a numbers racket. Even further away from Andy Hardy is Baby Face Nelson, in which Mr. Rooney played the lead role. As Baby Face Nelson one would never think Mickey Rooney made his name playing the All-American teenager. Mr. Rooney's Nelson is angry, violent, and homicidal.  Mickey Rooney excelled in the few films noirs he made, proving that he could play much more than Andy Hardy or Gus.

Of course, one does not have to watch his films noirs for examples of Mickey Rooney's good performances beyond playing teenagers and old men. Mickey Rooney made frequent appearances on television in the Fifties and Sixties, often playing characters quite different from those he had played in his best known films. In the Checkmate episode "The Paper Killer" Mr. Rooney played a cartoonist with a giant ego and an unhealthy dose of paranoia. In the Combat! episode "Silver Service" he played a truck driver in the Army who runs a crooked dice game. In the Kraft Suspense Theatre "The Hunt" Mickey Rooney played a homicidal small town sheriff who lets his prisoners escape simply so he can hunt them down and kill them. One of his best television performances was in two episodes of  Wagon Train in which Mr. Rooney played Samuel T. Evans. Evans was actually very close to the sorts of characters he had played in films (bungling and a little bit goofy), but Mr. Rooney made the role unique.

While Mickey Rooney may be best remembered for Andy Hardy and similar roles, as well playing lovable old men in later years, the truth is that he played a number of different roles throughout his career, some of which were quite different from young Andy. What is more he gave a number of great performances throughout his career. While Mickey Rooney was a leading man for much of his career, in reality he may perhaps be best considered a character actor. After all, such was Mr. Rooney's talent that he could play a typical American teenager (in his younger years), a kindly old grandfather (in his older years), a swindler, a neurotic, or a homicidal maniac and do all of them well.