Saturday, August 7, 2021

Former NBC Executive Herbert Schlosser Passes On

Herbert Schlosser, a long time NBC executive who helped bring Johnny Carson to the network to host The Tonight Show and was pivotal in the development of Saturday Night Live, died yesterday, August 6 2021, at the age of 95.

Herbert Schlosser was born in Atlantic City on April 21 1926. He served in the United States Navy and afterwards studied public and international affairs at Princeton University. Two years following his graduation from Princeton in 1949, he graduated from Yale Law School. He began his career as a lawyer with a Wall Street law firm. Bored by that job, he took a job at Phillips Nizer Benjamin Krim & Ballon. Phillips Nizer Benjamin Krim & Ballon had many clients in the entertainment industry, including Charlie Chaplin, Salvador Dali, Eddie Fisher, Alan Jay Lerner, and Mae West, among others. His experience at Phillips Nizer Benjamin Krim & Ballon resulted him being hired by general counsel of California National Productions, a production subsidiary of NBC Films (itself the syndication arm of the television network NBC). He later became California National Productions' chief operating officer.

It was in 1960 that Herbert Schlosser moved to the business affairs department of NBC. It was in that position that he headed the negotiations to bring Johnny Carson from ABC over to NBC to replace Jack Paar as the host of The Tonight Show. In 1966 Mr. Schlosser was named NBC's vice president of west coast programming. In this position he was responsible for bringing more black performers to the network, including Diahann Carroll in the sitcom Julia, Flip Wilson and his variety show The Flip Wilson Show, and Redd Foxx in the sitcom Sanford and Son. He also supported Rowan & Marin's Laugh-In, often protecting the show from NBC's Broadcast Standards department and others at the network who found some of its content offensive.

In 1972 he was promoted to executive vice president at the television network. It was a year later that he became its president. In 1974 he became president of the National Broadcasting Company, the parent company of the NBC television network. In 1977 he became its chief executive. It was in 1975, when Johnny Carson said that he wanted the weekend reruns of The Tonight Show pulled, that Mr. Schlosser wrote a memo that outlined the basic idea behind Saturday Night Live (it would be televised live from 30 Rockefeller Plaza, it would be aired live, and it had to appeal to the young). 

Failing to produce a prime-time hit for NBC, Herbert Schlosser was forced out in 1978. He was then named as executive vice president of RCA, the parent company of the National Broadcasting Company. There he worked on RCA's SelectaVision videodisc project. In 1981 he was selected to head all of RCA's entertainment properties, save for NBC. In 1985 he became a senior advisor at Wertheim & Company, and the chairman of the proposed Museum of the Moving Image. 

Herbert Schlosser proved very influential in the history of American television. He was pivotal in bringing Johnny Carson to NBC for The Tonight Show. He supported the television careers of Diahann Carroll, Flip Wilson, and Redd Foxx. He championed Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and was pivotal in bringing Saturday Night Live to the air. In the history of NBC, there were only a few others who had a greater impact.

Friday, August 6, 2021

The Lasting Impact of Lucille Ball

It was 110 years ago today that Lucille Ball was born. Her impact on American entertainment and pop culture is well known. With her husband Desi Arnaz, she founded Desilu Productions. This made her both one of the first women to own a studio and one of the earliest female producers. Her sitcom I Love Lucy would not only be one of American television's first hits, but it would have a lasting influence. In starring Lucy with her real life husband Desi Arnaz, it portrayed one of the first ethnically mixed marriages on television. When Miss Ball became pregnant with her son Desi Arnaz Jr., it became one of the first shows to portray a pregnancy on American television. And while I Love Lucy was not the first sitcom to filmed using a multi-camera format in front of a live audience, in doing so it would have a lasting impact on sitcoms to come. Of course, Desilu Productions would produce other influential shows besides I Love Lucy. They include Our Miss Brooks, The Untouchables, Star Trek, and Mission: Impossible.

Lucille Ball would also have a lasting impact on generations of actors and comedians. During her lifetime she would nurture the careers of performers who would become legends in their own right. Barbara Eden guest starred on the I Love Lucy episode "Country Club Dance" as the guest of one of Lucy's neighbours who sets all the men's hearts aflutter. Desi Arnaz was well-known for his womanizing, and he was taken with Barbara Eden. He would show up at any rehearsal she was at and he made no secret of his desire for her. This made things difficult for Miss Eden, who had enormous respect for Lucy. She took to avoiding Desi Arnaz whenever possible.

A lesser woman might have been jealous of Barbara Eden and might have treated her poorly, but Lucille Ball recognized Miss Eden's talent and treated her kindly. Lucy invited her to her dressing room and let her pick out a dress, which she then made sure would make Barbara Eden look even more glamorous. According to Miss Eden's autobiography, Jeanie Out of the Bottle, Lucille Ball also gave her encouragement. She told her, "You're good, Barbara. You don’t usually find a pretty girl who can project and be funny at the same time. But make sure to put that pretty little face of yours out there. Let the camera love your face." Lucy even offered Barbara Eden a contract with Desilu. While Miss Eden turned her down, the two remained friends.

Lucille Ball also nurtured the career of Carol Burnett. The two had met backstage when Miss Burnett was performing on Broadway in Once Upon a Mattress. The two talked for a half hour and when Lucy left, she told Carol Burnett, "Kid, if you ever need me for anything, give me a call." Lucille Ball would be Carol Burnett's guest on her first special, Carol +2. She made frequent guest appearances on The Carol Burnett Show and Carol Burnett guest starred on both The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy. Carol Burnett would often ask Lucille Ball for advice. Lucy even sent Carol Burnett a bouquet of flowers every year on her birthday. Sadly, Lucy would die on Carol Burnett's birthday (Carol was born April 23 1933 and Lucy died on April 23 1989, but flowers from Lucy to Carol Burnett still arrived.

Lucille Ball was also a mentor to Robert Osborne, the legendary film historian and host of Turner Classic Movies. She signed him to Desilu and he studied acting under Miss Ball as part of the Desilu Workshop. Robert met with some success as an actor, guest starring on Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, Whirlybirds, and Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond and making small appearances on various movies. He appeared in the pilot for The Beverly Hillbillies and there was even talk of him having a recurring role on the show. He turned it down as he didn't think The Beverly Hillbillies  would last.

While Robert Osborne had some success as an actor, it was Lucille Ball who saw that his talents actually lay elsewhere. She suggested to Robert that he pursue a career in writing. His first book, His first book, Academy Awards Illustrated, was published in 1965. Those of us who enjoyed watching Robert Osborne as host of TCM then owe a debt of gratitude to Lucille Ball. Without Miss Ball, Robert Osborne might have never become an author and film historian, and as a result he might not have been selected to host Turner Classic Movies.

Lucy would also be responsible for saving two shows that have since become legendary. Both Star Trek and Mission: Impossible were produced by Desilu. While it is uncertain if Lucille Ball had any responsibility in getting both shows on the air, it is known that she saved both shows from her Desilu executives. Argyle Nelson, head of production and studio operations, and Edwin Holly, senior vice president, estimated that both Star Trek and Mission: Impossible would cost $225,000 apiece a week to produce, with weekly revenues of $160,000 apiece. This meant Desilu would lose a good deal of money on both shows. Ed Holly was so opposed to Star Trek and Mission: Impossible that he told Lucy that they would have to sell the studio if they produced the pilots for both shows.

There are two stories as to how Lucy decided to go forward with both shows. Herb Solow, executive in charge of production at Desilu, supported Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. He then persuaded Lucille Ball to go forward with the two shows by invoking Desilu's past of producing quality television. Lucy's daughter, Lucie Arnaz, told a simpler version at William Shatner's induction into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. When Lucy's executives at Desilu told her that Star Trek and Mission: Impossible were too expensive to produce, she simply replied, "No, I like 'em!" Lucy usually listened to her executives at Desilu, but in the case of Star Trek and Mission: Impossible, she remained determined that the studio would produce both shows. Of course, since then, Star Trek and Mission: Impossible have become the most famous shows produced by Desilu except for I Love Lucy.

Lucille Ball was so generous to her fellow performers and the shows produced at Desilu that these are hardly the only stories of how she would have a lasting impact on American entertainment and pop culture. Her influence was very reaching. What is more, it is still being felt to this day.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Vanessa Marquez 3rd Angelversary

On August 30 2018 my dearest friend Vanessa Marquez was having severe seizures. She was not having a "mental health crisis." She was not suicidal. She simply needed medical aid. It is for that reason that when I texted her, she asked me to call for paramedics in South Pasadena, California. Unfortunately, police officers were also dispatched to her apartment that day. Two of those police officers shot Vanessa in the back and killed her. I am so convinced that these officers acted inappropriately, unprofessionally, and incompetently, and with depraved indifference to Vanessa's well-being, that I wrote a whole blog post about it ("Justice for Vanessa Marquez"), not to mention the fact that I have written letters to everyone from the South Pasadena City Council to Los Angeles District Attorney Geroge Gascón (fortunately, Jackie Lacey was voted out last year) in an effort to get Vanessa justice. Sadly, while the City of South Pasadena reached a settlement with Vanessa's mother, the two officers who killed Vanessa have yet to be brought to justice.

On August 22 2021 an event in honour of Vanessa's 3rd Angelversary will be held in South Pasadena. I believe it is being organized by Vanessa's friend Minerva Garcia Ortega and Black Lives Matter South Pasadena. The location has yet to determined, but the theme will be the 1940s. Vanessa loved classic movies, as well as vintage clothing and Swing music, so the theme is very appropriate. Sadly, I will not be able to attend, as I do not live in Southern California and I do not have the money to fly there at the moment. That having been said, if you live in Southern California and you can attend, by all means do so. Vanessa meant more to me than anyone I have ever known and I want her to get the justice she has been so long denied. I would like to see as many people speaking out on behalf of Vanessa as possible. As it is, I will be writing the South Pasadena City Council again, as well as others in authority.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Two Complaints I Have About Google Chrome on Android

I have never been a fan of Google Chrome. In fact, the default browser on my PC is Firefox, which I regard as a far superior browser. That having been said, on my smartphone I use Chrome. I don't use my phone that much and it simply didn't seem that important to me to install another browser. That having been said, I might just install Firefox on my phone and make it the default browser there as well if Google does not address two complaints I have with Chrome at the moment.

My first complaint is with something Google calls "tab groups." In the past, tabs on Chrome on Android were displayed in a vertical layout. With tab groups the tabs are displayed in a grid layout. Supposedly "tab groups" are supposed to make it easier to manage and organize tabs, but to me it seems obvious that the exact opposite is the case. Quite simply, tab groups and the grid layout makes it harder to manage tabs. There was a way to disable "tab groups" in Chrome on Android under chrome://flags, but sadly it seems to no longer work.

It would seem that I am not the only one who detests tab groups and the grid layout. I did a search for "Chrome android tab groups" and except for the top result (Google's support page for tabs in Chrome on Android) every single result on the first page is related to disabling and even outright hating "tab groups." Honestly, if Google wants people to continue using Chrome on their phones, they had best restore the means to disable tab groups.

The other complaint I have about Chrome on my smart phone is that "search Google for image.." has been replaced by "search with Google Lens." If you are wondering what Google Lens is, it's a image recognition technology that Google introduced in 2017.  If you click on "search with Google Lens," it will open up a page identifying who or what is in the photo, the top match in Google and the top few matches in Google Image Search. It only after one clicks on a a link in the bottom that says "Didn't find what you were looking for? Retry with Google Images." Now quite frankly, if I am searching for different sizes of an image, I do not need the top result on Google and I want more than the top four results on Google Image Search. In other words, I want to be able to search with Google Image Search to begin with. Sadly, there was once a way to disable Google Lens in chrome://flags, but it appears to no longer work.

Now I have no idea how unpopular taking away "search Google for image..." and replacing it with "search with Google Lens" is. I do know there are several pages which explain how to disable Google Lens in Chrome on one's phone, something that no longer works. Regardless, I know I do not like it and for those times when I do want to perform a search for an image on Chrome on my phone, I simply scroll to the bottom and try the search in Google Images. It would be much easier if Google simply restored the ability to disable Google Lens in chrome://flags.

Anyway, I have sent Google feedback on both tab groups and Google Lens. I am hoping others will do the same. As it is, if Google does not correct this two complains I have with Chrome on my smartphone, Firefox might soon become the default browser on my phone as well as my PC.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

The 40th Anniversary of MTV

It was 40 years ago today that MTV launched. Originally the channel was devoted to showing music videos twenty four hours a day. In the Eighties it proved to be a force in pop culture. Many of the videos featured on the channel seeped into the collective consciousness. And while a bit of a music video fad was bubbling under the surface prior to MTV's debut, the channel effectively spurred that fad into overdrive during the early part of the Eighties. MTV brought success to new groups (such as Duran Duran) and renewed success for older groups (such as ZZ Top).

I have already covered the history of MTV elsewhere (see my old posts "A History of Music Videos Part Five" and "A History of Music Videos Part Six"), so I will keep it brief here. Quite simply, after years of showing nothing but music videos and music-oriented programming, MTV began undergoing channel drift. It was in 1987 that MTV debuted the game show Remote Control, its first non-musical program. It was in 1992 that MTV debuted the reality show The Real World debuted. The success of The Real World would lead to further non-music shows, including Road Rules, Jackass, and Singled Out. By 2000 MTV only showed eight hours worth of music videos a day. By 2008 that number had decreased to only three hours a day. Eventually MTV would cease showing music videos entirely. This has led to jokes about people being old enough to remember when MTV still showed music videos. It ceased being Music Television long ago.

While MTV descended into a mess of reality shows and arguably irrelevance, for a time it was a force to be reckoned with. In memory of what MTV once was, here are the first three videos aired on the channel.