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6 TV Movie Facts (Including some dirt on Steven Spielberg)

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If you never get tired of watching Meredith Baxter burn her "husband's" clothes as Betty Broderick in A Woman Scorned, or if you had trouble sleeping after watching the nuclear holocaust portrayed in The Day After, then this week's TVHolic glimpse into classic "made for TV movies" should be right up your alley.

1. The Networks Couldn't Get Enough of "˜em

Picture 31.pngNBC pioneered the idea of made-for-TV movies with 1964's See How They Run, but ABC picked up that ball and ran with it. The network's "Tuesday Movie of the Week" quickly expanded to include the "Wednesday Movie of the Week." Eventually movies of the week were being produced at such a rate that the network aired them on any day there was a timeslot available. The made-for-TV genre was filmdom's version of summer stock; it gave both TV actors on hiatus from their regular series and B -list (and lower) movie stars an opportunity to keep their face in front of the public. It also allowed them to spread their acting "wings" and play characters contrary to their public image (Q.E.D. Archie Bunker's little goil Sally Struthers as a battered wife in Intimate Strangers, and Elizabeth Montgomery as axe-wielding Lizzie Borden.)

2. It's where Steven Spielberg Debuted

Long before anyone had heard of "road rage," Dennis Weaver experienced it on the small screen when he innocently passed a tanker truck that was spewing exhaust in front of him on a remote road. Apparently the trucker took this to be an insult to the size of his Peterbilt, and he proceeded to alternately tailgate, blast his horn at, and nudge Weaver's Plymouth Valiant in a bizarre cat-and-mouse game. Duel was directed by a 23-year-old guy named Steven Spielberg, his first feature-length film. The made-for-TV version was such a ratings success that several additional scenes were filmed after the fact to lengthen the film for theatrical release in Europe and Australia.

3. Linda Blair Gets Born Again

Linda Blair first gained fame as the pea soup-spewing Regan in The Exorcist, but for dedicated couch potatoes, she'll always be remembered for her many poignant appearances in made-for-TVers. Her pièce de résistance was 1974's Born Innocent, in which she portrayed an incorrigible runaway who ends up in the juvenile prison system. Harsh punishment for a non-violent crime, but the idea was to send a "scared straight" sort of message to teen girls on the edge. Unfortunately the message some miscreants got instead was "hey, let's re-enact the controversial shower scene on some random stranger!"

4. James Brolin Has Something of an acting Career?

Before he became Mr. Barbra Streisand, audiences first got to know Brolin as the motorcycle-riding renegade doctor on Marcus Welby, MD, but Jim eventually became a fixture in the made-for-TV film world. In 1972's A Short Walk to Daylight, he played a New York City cop who had to lead a subway car full of disparate strangers out of the crumbled underground tunnels after an earthquake. One year later he starred in Trapped, a classic man-against-beast film in which he plays a mugging victim left unconscious in a department store restroom. When he regains consciousness, the store is closed and is being patrolled by a pack of vicious Dobermans. Will he escape? Will he even survive? Of course he will, but the 90 minutes before he triumphed kept us on the edge of our collective seat.

5. Bad Ronald is full of Bad Ideas

Take one nerdy high school kid who is taunted by a little neighborhood girl. He shoves her in anger. Girl hits head on a cinder block and dies. Boy runs home to mother and tearfully describes the accident. Does Mom call the police? No, she has Son break out his carpentry tools and wall himself inside an inner room in their house. This was the premise for Bad Ronald, which starred Scott Jacoby, who TV fans may recognize as Dorothy's son on The Golden Girls.

6. Alice in Television Land

The 1971 book Go Ask Alice was purported to be the real diary of a shy teenaged girl in a new town who found popularity and an instant coterie of friends once she partook in the taboo world of drugs. The book was banned in many high school libraries, which only helped to increase its popularity and encourage Hollywood to come a-calling. The 1973 TV film starred Jamie Smith-Jackson as Alice and a hilariously bespectacled William Shatner as her clueless father. Despite the film and book's claim that the story was based on a real-life diary, many years later Mormon youth counselor Beatrice Sparks admitted that she was the book's author and that it was a work of fiction.

Let's see a show of hands "“ how many of you would tune in to TVLand if they started showing some classic Movies of the Week instead of reality programming? And please feel free to mention your favorite made-for-TVer; you'll probably jog many other reader's memories in the process.

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The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
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On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:

Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”

While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.

You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.

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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


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