David Bruce: Television Anecdotes

An appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson could lead to fame and fortune and great success, and so of course many guests were understandably nervous before their first appearance on the TV program. The first time that movie critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel appeared on “The Tonight Show,” one of Johnny’s writers stopped by their dressing room to say that Johnny would be asking them which current movies they liked. It’s a good thing that the writer stopped by, for Mr. Ebert and Mr. Siskel were so nervous that they couldn’t think of the titles of any current movies they liked, although several were playing that they had given thumbs up to. With their minds completely blank, they brainstormed to come up with the title of a good movie. The only one they could think of was “Gone With the Wind,” so Mr. Siskel ended up calling their office back in Chicago and asking an assistant to tell them the titles of some movies they liked. (Of course, when they actually went on the show, Mr. Carson, always a master interviewer, put them at ease and everything went very smoothly.)

Even early in his career, Luciano Pavarotti weighed over 300 pounds. Once, just before he was to appear on a TV talk show, he discovered that in order to reach his dressing room, he would have to climb five flights of stairs. He tried to get himself an easier-to-get-to dressing room on the grounds that his coach and accompanist Eugene Kohn — who was quite healthy — was weak and suffering from a bad heart. This obvious ploy failed, and Mr. Pavarotti was forced to climb the stars, cursing in Italian with each step.

Performers in television need to make their marks; that is, they need to stand in certain spots so that the camera operators can properly do their jobs. However, some performers in the days of live television declined to worry about making their marks. For example, comedian Jackie Gleason moved where the spirit moved him. When a camera operator complained, Mr. Gleason told him, “Well, pal, since I’m the star of this show, and your camera has wheels, just who in the h*ll do you think is going to move their *ss?”

Because the TV character Bart Simpson is a 10-year-old boy, people naturally expect a guy to provide his voice and not Nancy Cartwright, who does provide his voice, as well as the voices of Nelson and Ralph. Once, Ms. Cartwright was going shopping and did Bart’s voice in the parking lot. A man heard her and said, “That’s not Bart. I know the guy who does him.” Ms. Cartwright said, “A guy does Bart’s voice?” The man replied, “Yeah, that’s right. Yours is pretty good, but it’s not Bart.”

When he was still working for NBC, “Late Night” talk-show host David Letterman looked out of his office window and noticed “Today Show” talk-show host Bryant Gumbel filming an interview outside. David being David, he got a bullhorn and shouted down to Mr. Gumbel: “My name is Larry Grossman, I am the president of NBC News — and I’m not wearing any pants.” The interruption ruined Mr. Bryant’s interview, and he had to film it again, but “Late Night” fans enjoyed a good laugh.

Comedian George Lindsey auditioned for the part of Gomer Pyle on “The Andy Griffith Show,” but Jim Nabors got the part. Mr. Lindsey was very disappointed, and at home, when he watched the episode introducing Gomer, he became so angry that he kicked in the screen of the TV. Fortunately, Mr. Nabors left to do the spin-off series “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” and Mr. Lindsey started appearing on “The Gomer Pyle Show” as Gomer’s cousin, Goober Pyle.

The first episode of “The Simpsons” was supposed to air on Fox in the fall of 1989, but it was delayed because its executive producers — Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, and Sam Simon — discovered that the first episode contained several unauthorized tasteless jokes. (Apparently, authorized tasteless jokes are OK.) “The Simpsons” premiered as a Christmas special in 1989, and the actual series started in January 1990.

Television viewers love the specials starring Charlie Brown. On the Valentine’s Day special, Charlie Brown doesn’t get a single valentine, so hundreds of viewers send valentines to the TV studio so that they can be given to Charlie Brown. On the Halloween special, Charlie Brown gets rocks instead of trick-or-treat candy, so viewers send bags of candy to the TV studio.

When Steven Spielberg was a boy, his father didn’t want him to watch too much TV. To determine whether Steven was watching TV, his father used to place a hair over the power switch of the family TV, but Steven knew about the hair, and he would remove it, watch TV, and then carefully replace the hair so his father wouldn’t know that he had been watching TV.

In 1998, pop singer Madonna performed a dance that is sacred to the Hindus. The World Vaishnava Association believed that Madonna’s performing the dance was a sacrilege, and it demanded an apology. Madonna refused to apologize. Instead, she asked, “If they’re so pure, why are they watching TV?”

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, enjoyed the TV cartoon series “Animaniacs.” When her daughter, Jessica, was small, Ms. Rowling asked Jessica to wake her up when “Animaniacs” came on early Saturday morning. Jessica did so by gleefully jumping up and down on her mother’s bed.

Actress/model June Wilkinson (40-23-36) guest starred as Elvina on the TV series “Batman,” starring Adam West and Burt Ward. While she was being made up, Mr. West and Mr. Ward walked in, did not notice her, and started talking about her and her physique. Eventually, Ms. Wilkinson gave herself away by giggling.

A “Sylvia” comic strip by Nicole Hollander shows Sylvia doing one of the things she does best: talk back to the TV. The TV is showing a women’s hygiene commercial in which a daughter tells her mother, “I don’t always feel as fresh as I’d like to.” Sylvia advises her, “Sit in the fridge.”

“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.” — John Lennon

© 2015, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved

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