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The First Time News Was Fit To Print, XIX: Our TV Episode

Every Monday, mental_floss wanders into the archives of The New York Times "“ and wanders out with first mentions worth mentioning. In this episode, we take a look at the first time The Times discussed a variety of TV-related topics. If you have a suggestion for next time, leave us a comment.

Friends

April 6, 1994

Finding the Absolutely Perfect Actor:
The High Stress Business of Casting

Marta Kauffman and David Crane are sitting together on a long white couch, trying to find Joey.

friends-pilot3.jpgWhen they sent out the "breakdown" for the casting call, they described him as a "handsome, smug, macho guy in his 20's" who loves "women, sports, women, New York, women," and most of all, himself. Now they are listening to a man who would be Joey philosophize in a smug, macho way about women and ice cream.
* * * * *
Casting, notoriously nerve-racking for actors, is hardly less stressful for television writers and producers like Mr. Crane and Ms. Kauffman. The pair have spent almost six months developing a set of sitcom characters -- a circle of friends in their 20's living in Manhattan -- and writing dialogue for them. Against great odds, they have persuaded a network, NBC, to pay to shoot a pilot episode of the sitcom, titled Friends Like Us. The next critical step, from pilot to series, will depend largely on how well Friends Like Us is cast.

Sesame Street

May 7, 1969

Rich TV Program Seeks Youngest
bigbird.jpgThe most expensive and expansive television show ever beamed at the nation's 12 million preschool children -- who will watch TV more hours before they get to kingergarten than they will spend in six grades of elementary school -- was announced yesterday by National Educational Television.

Sesame Street is named to reflect the balance between fantasy and the real-life educational open-a-new-window need of pre-school youngsters "“ particularly members of minority groups in the inner cores of big cities "“ that the show hopes to achieve.
* * * * *
David Connell, executive producer of the series (he held the same position with the Captain Kangaroo series for eight years), said the new show would follow an informal magazine format, with either three or four permanent hosts yet to be selected. At least one of the hosts will be black.

Keep reading for color television, The Simpsons, Pat Sajak, President Bartlet, Flintstone vitamins and more.

Pat Sajak

May 8, 1986

As 'Wheel' Goes, So Go TV Profits and Careers
sajak.jpg Television executives offer various explanations for the wild success of Wheel of Fortune, which gave no particular hint of its extravagant future when it first appeared, seemingly just another word-game show, on NBC's daytime schedule 11 years ago. On the show, contestants win prizes for discerning a hidden phrase by guessing its letters.Some suggest the secret is in the droll humor of the show's host, Pat Sajak, a former television weatherman, or perhaps in the fetching manner in which the hostess, Vanna White, reveals the hidden clues. Roger King, chairman of King Productions, the distributor, maintains it is in the game - simplicity itself. "It can be played by a rocket scientist and by an 8-year-old," he said.

It is generally conceded that ''Wheel,'' entering its fourth year in syndication, can't go on as it has forever. But most industry observers maintain that while the show may be nearing its peak, its impact remains huge.

Steve Urkel

April 17, 1991

Snookums! Steve Urkel is a Hit
urkel.jpg He's so unhip that now he's cool, Steve Urkel, a regular in-your-face kind of guy. When he laughs, he snorts. When he talks, he whines in a nasal, grating voice. When he arrives, he intrudes, with his pants riding up his skinny waist and his mouth working overtime, popping out sassy, if not annoying, rejoinders.

Who, you may wonder, is Steve Urkel and why should anyone care? Played by the 14-year-old actor Jhaleel White, Steve Urkel is the geek-next-door who has grabbed the public fancy and catapulted Family Matters, the ABC Friday night sitcom about a black police officer and his extended family, into a hit that ranks frequently among the top five shows in prime time.
* * * * *
When he is not the centerpiece of Family Matters, Urkel pops up on other shows. On Full House, Urkel jetted into town to explain to Stephanie that wearing glasses is not such a bad thing. He showed up on Johnny Carson as a guest, in the form of Mr. White (sans glasses and irritating voice). On the American Comedy Awards, Mr. White taught Bea Arthur how to do the Urkel, a very nerdy dance.

Color Television

July 31, 1928

Home Movies in Color, Long an Eastman Dream, are Shown to Notables
crayons.JPG The machine age again triumphs in its imitation of nature and the movies produce another astonishing novelty from their apparently inexhaustible bag of magical effects.

Today George Eastman, 74 years old, inventor and manufacturer of cameras and moving picture film, realized his dream of a quarter century when he announced the perfection of a system of color photography whereby any amateur can take moving pictures which reproduce all the colors of the spectrum in all their beauty.
* * * * *
The perfection of color photography and the perfection of vocal films have been the most difficult technical problems confronting scientists and engineers working in the moving picture field. Now that success seems near at hand, the practical idealists assembled here look forward to a feat that would have appeared fantastic a generation ago "“ color television synchronized with radio.

President Josiah Bartlet

September 22, 1999

bartlet.jpgAll the President's Quips:
Levity at the White House

The best thing about The West Wing is that it has a political point of view. In the first episode it tackles the religious right with a vehemence rare in politics or entertainment. The show's worst element "“ and in tonight's opening it is overwhelmingly bad "“ is that its ideas and drama are watered down, as if to make them palatable to a quasi-intelligent audience. The West Wing is in the middle of something, all right; what it turns out to be is middlebrow"¦.One of the season's most hyped and anticipated series, The West Wing is by far its biggest disappointment. WITH: Rob Lowe (Sam Seaborn), Allison Janney (C. J. Gregg) and Martin Sheen (President Josiah Bartlet).

The Simpsons

December 23, 1988

simpsons.jpgTelevision Ad for Cartoonist
It is rare that an underground cartoonist finds himself in demand for commercial work, but Matt Groening has made the leap. Mr. Groening is the creator of Life in Hell, an anarchic strip that appears in 103 publications, mostly alternative newsweeklies. Now, The Simpsons, a strange cartoon family he invented for television's Tracey Ullman Show, will be featured in a new ad by Lintas: New York for Butterfinger candy bars, a Planters Life Savers product that makes its debut Jan. 2.

Flintstone Vitamins

November 15, 1978

Parents Ired by TV Ads
FlintstonesVitamins.jpg Is it a deceptive trade practice to tell your 8-year-old child: "Yabba dabba doo, Flintstone Vitamins are good for you"?

How about Tony the Tiger extolling the virtues of his sugar-coated certal or that hapless leprechaun pushing his marshmallow-flavored breakfast treat?

A newly formed coalition of 46 national consumer, professional and labor organizations says these ads "“ and other like them "“ do. And they banded together today to urge parents to make their voices heard against such advertisements.

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”

1. HE WAS BULLIED AS A CHILD.

According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.

2. HE WAS AN ORDAINED MINISTER.

Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

3. HE RESPONDED TO ALL HIS FAN MAIL.

Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.

4. ANIMALS LOVED HIM AS MUCH AS PEOPLE DID.

It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.

5. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN.

Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.

6. HIS INTEREST IN TELEVISION WAS BORN OUT OF A DISDAIN FOR THE MEDIUM.

Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

7. KIDS WHO WATCHED MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD RETAINED MORE THAN THOSE WHO WATCHED SESAME STREET.

A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.

8. ROGERS’S MOM KNIT ALL OF HIS SWEATERS.

If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.

9. HE WAS COLORBLIND.

Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.

10. HE WORE SNEAKERS AS A PRODUCTION CONSIDERATION.

According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.

11. MICHAEL KEATON GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW.

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.

12. ROGERS GAVE GEORGE ROMERO HIS FIRST PAYING GIG, TOO.

It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”

13. ROGERS HELPED SAVE PUBLIC TELEVISION.

In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.

14. HE ALSO SAVED THE VCR.

Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.

15. ONE OF HIS SWEATERS WAS DONATED TO THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

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5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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