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6 TV Stars with Billboard Hits

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It seems like no one is satisfied with their level of celebrity. TV stars want to work in film, film stars strive to make it big on Broadway, and me, I want to direct. This week I'm taking the high road and looking at the cross-over successes: those precious few TV stars whose recordings actually cracked the Billboard Top 40.

1. Miami Vice stacks the Deck

Miami Vice was all the rage in the early 1980s. It inspired men to wear unconstructed suit jackets over pastel T-shirts, it inspired a company to sell a razor that left a fine layer of stubble on a man's chin, and it inspired Epic Records to offer Don Johnson a record deal. Despite Johnson's very dicey vocal ability, the Miami Vice name carried enough cachet to entice Stevie Ray Vaughn, Bonnie Raitt, Ron Wood and Willie Nelson to contribute their considerable talents to his debut album. His single "Heartbeat" hit number five in 1986.

2. Eddie Murphy's Girl Likes to Party all the Time

In the dreadful early 1980s era of Saturday Night Live, a young comic named Eddie Murphy was the breakout star. He became famous for many recurring characters, including Velvet Jones, Mr. Robinson, and Buckwheat. His comedic genius was recognized by bigwig studio types, and as a result he co-starred in such big budget films as Trading Places and 48 Hours. But that wasn't quite enough to satisfy Murphy's all-conquering celebrity mojo; he hoped to be a singing star as well. He recorded an album produced by his superstar pal Rick James, and had some fleeting success. In 1985, the single "Party All the Time" (his only major hit) peaked at number two on the charts.

3. Travolta gets (Re-)discovered for the First Time

John Travolta owes his recording success to the young daughter of a Midland Records executive. She was watching an episode of Welcome Back, Kotter when Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino sang an impromptu and improvised chorus of "Barbara Ann." She told her dad about this cute guy on TV who could sing, and once dad did some research into Kotter's ratings and demographics, he hustled Travolta into the recording studio. His 1976 ballad "Let Her In" hit number 10 in 1976 and landed him guest shots on a number of talk shows as well as American Bandstand.

John Travolta - Let Her In - Music Video via Noolmusic.com

4. Another Cassidy hits it Big

If you were a warm-blooded teenage girl in the late 1970s (not me, of course"¦I, um, was a mere child at the time"¦), you arranged your weekend schedule so that you were planted in front of the TV at 7:00 Sunday night in order to watch The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. If it happened to be a Nancy Drew episode, you changed the channel and finished your homework. But when Shaun Cassidy was onscreen, the real world melted away and you were transported to some parallel universe by his huge blue eyes, carefully layered blond hair, winning smile and "aw, shucks" personality. Thanks to his pedigree "“ he was the half-brother of teen superstar David Cassidy "“ it was only a matter of time before Shaun would be handed a record deal. His very first single, a remake of the Crystals' "Da Do Ron Ron" went all the way to number one in July 1977. He wasn't exactly a "one hit wonder," either; he also landed in the top 10 with "That's Rock and Roll" and "Hey, Deanie."

5. The Soundtrack to Father's Day

Paul Petersen had just turned 13 when he landed the role of Jeff Stone on The Donna Reed Show. He was 20 by the time the show ended, and had managed to become something of a teen idol in the meantime. On one episode young Jeff hesitantly sang a sappy ballad to his father in front of his cool rock and roll friends. Colpix Records offered Petersen a recording contract (despite Petersen's own protests that his vocal range was limited). "My Dad" was released as a single soon after. It cracked the Top 20 in 1962, and since there are so few heartfelt songs about Pop from an appreciative son's point of view, it still gets radio airplay on many stations every year around Father's Day. Click here to get an earful.

6. A Detective Finds his Voice

David Soul's first love was singing. He'd tried his hand at a musical career in the early 1970s, billing himself as The Covered Man and appearing on talk fests like The Merv Griffin Show wearing a mask. When that gimmick failed to make him a superstar, he started auditioning for acting roles. His big break came in 1975 when he was cast as Det. Ken Hutchinson on the police action series Starsky and Hutch. Once the show was a hit and Soul's face was regularly plastered in teen magazines, he was able to sing without hiding his face. "Don't Give Up on Us" hit number one in April 1977.

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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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