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.
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.
When 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.
Rich TV Program Seeks Youngest
The 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.
As 'Wheel' Goes, So Go TV Profits and Careers
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.
Snookums! Steve Urkel is a Hit
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.
Home Movies in Color, Long an Eastman Dream, are Shown to Notables
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
All 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).
Television 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.
Parents Ired by TV Ads
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.
"¢ Volume I: Barack Obama, Jon Stewart, iPod
"¢ Volume II: Hillary Clinton, Starbucks, Donald Trump
"¢ Volume III: JFK, Microwave Oven, the Internet
"¢ Volume IV: Larry David, Drudge Report, Digital Camera
"¢ Volume V: Walkman, Osama bin Laden, Iowa Caucuses
"¢ Volume VI: Times Square, Marijuana, Googling
"¢ Volume VII: Lance Armstrong, Aerosmith, Gatorade
"¢ Volume VIII: Bob Dylan, New York Jets, War on Terror
"¢ Volume IX: Hedge Fund, White Collar Crime, John Updike
"¢ Volume X: E-mail, Bruce Springsteen, George Steinbrenner
"¢ Volume XI: RFK, the Olsen Twins, Digg
"¢ Volume XII: Jerry Seinfeld, Lee Harvey Oswald, Don Mattingly
"¢ Volume XIII: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Taxicab, Hippies
"¢ Volume XIV: Digital Watch, Prozac, David Hasselhoff
"¢ Volume XV: George Clooney, Golden Gate Bridge, Toyota Prius
"¢ Volume XVI: Woody Allen, The Titanic, The Beastie Boys
"¢ Volume XVII: New York Edition
"¢ Volume XVIII: Sports Edition
"¢ November 3, 2007: Appearance on NPR Weekend Edition Saturday
Don't want to wait until next Monday for more first mentions? Get complete access to the The New York Times archives when you become an NYT subscriber.