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8 Memorable TV Uncles

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Extended family members always seem to figure more prominently in TV-land than in real life; in this first part of an occasional series, we take a look at some of the more memorable uncles who have graced our airwaves.

1. Uncle Joe

Prolific character actor Edgar Buchanan is probably best remembered as the gravelly-voiced Uncle Joe, who was always movin' kinda slow on Petticoat Junction. Uncle Joe Carson was one of a handful of Hooterville residents who also made semi-regular appearances on Green Acres. Buchanan was born in Missouri but moved to Oregon at the age of seven. He graduated from the North Pacific Dental College and ran a successful oral surgery practice in Altadena, California, until (at age 36) he finally gave up his spit sink and succumbed to the acting bug that had first bitten him back in college.

2. Uncle Bobby

If you were a kid in Canada during the 1960s and 70s, chances are you watched The Uncle Bobby Show (most likely you were home for lunch and just waiting for The Flintstones to come on). Uncle Bobby was Bobby Ash, who was born in Staffordshire, England, in 1924 and began acting on stage at the tender age of five. He emigrated to Canada after reading an ad for a new TV station starting up in Toronto that was looking for talent. The Uncle Bobby Show aired from 1962 to 1979 on CFTO and was also syndicated across Canada. Sadly, Uncle Bobby always remained something of a second-string children's TV host in a market that included the Friendly Giant and Mr. Dressup, and he had to moonlight as a school bus driver in order to make ends meet.

3. Uncle Bill

Family Affair's Uncle Bill (portrayed by Brian Keith) was almost more of an indulgent grandpa than the bewildered uncle who was unexpectedly made the guardian of his nieces and nephew when their parents were killed in a car accident. Of course, as a successful consulting civil engineer living in a luxurious penthouse apartment on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, swinging bachelor Bill Davis could afford to be benevolent. Basic care and feeding (as well as discipline) of Cissy, Buffy and Jody were all left to his gentleman's gentleman, Mr. French, to handle while Uncle Bill was off overseeing a construction project or dating a socialite. Uncle Bill's idea of parenting was to open his wallet in case of any emergency (such as the time he hired a baby elephant to entertain Buffy at home in the family living room when she was depressed over her broken leg).

4. Uncle Jesse

TV viewers (particularly the moms in the audience) can't resist a man who goes gooey over children, so it's no surprise that heartthrob John Stamos as Uncle Jesse lured as many fans to Full House on Friday nights as did the Olsen twins. Darkly handsome, long-haired, brooding Uncle Jesse rode a motorcycle and was a staunch Elvis wannabe. When such a "bad boy" gave up his carousing ways in order to help take care of his deceased sister's daughters, what red-blooded female wouldn't swoon? During the first season, Stamos' character was called "Jesse Cochran," but by Season Two Stamos had enough clout to ask the producers to change his name to "Jesse Katsopolis" in recognition of his own Greek heritage (Stamos' original family name was Stamotopoulos).

5. Uncle Charley

uncle.jpgWilliam Demarest was hired to portray Uncle Charley, the chief cook and bottle-washer, on My Three Sons after William Frawley ("Bub") became too ill to be insured. Demarest was no youngster by the time he joined the Sons cast "“ he'd appeared with Al Jolson in the first talkie, The Jazz Singer, back in 1927. Crotchety Uncle Charley was definitely the antithesis of easy-going Uncle Bill; he was famous for threatening the Douglas kids with things like the "Watusi red ant torture" if they didn't straighten up and fly right.

6. Uncle Junior

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Uncle Junior of The Sopranos was not as warm and fuzzy as your typical TV uncle, but he did have a soft spot in his heart for his nephew, Tony Soprano. In the final episode of Season Three, Junior starts singing along with a guitarist in the restaurant where the family has gathered for a post-funeral meal. It is an old Italian classic, originally written for Enrico Caruso, and the mourners are visibly moved. Uncle Junior continues into a medley of sentimental favorites, and subtly re-establishes his status as boss (even if temporarily) of the family. Dominic Chianese, who portrayed Junior, had been singing on Broadway since 1965, and music has always been his first love, so it's no wonder he was able to evince such a range of emotions in one scene via song.

7. Uncle Fester

When the bald, hunched man in the black coat appeared in Charles Addams' cartoons, he had no name. Addams himself christened the character "Uncle Fester" when his macabre family was turned into a sitcom in 1964. On the TV series, Fester was Morticia's maternal uncle, but in the subsequent films he was Gomez Addams' brother. Uncle Fester was played by Jackie Coogan, who first gained fame as Charlie Chaplin's sidekick in the 1921 silent film The Kid. Young Coogan's image was used to merchandise everything from peanut butter to dolls, and he earned an estimated $4 million before he hit his teens. Sadly, his mother and stepfather spent most of his fortune on luxuries for themselves, and when Coogan turned 21 he found that his bank account was nearly empty. An ugly legal battle ensued, with one result being the California Child Actor's Bill, which safeguards a portion of the earnings of juvenile performers.

8. Uncle Leo

It took some serious talent to stand out as an oddball among the Seinfeld cast, since every character had his or her own set of neuroses, but Len Lesser as Uncle Leo was up to the challenge. Uncle Leo was certain that anti-Semitism was behind every perceived slight, he believed seniors could get away with shoplifting by pleading senility, and he gripped folks by the forearm when talking to them just to make sure they didn't walk away while he raved about his son Jeffrey, who worked for the Parks department. Lesser mentioned in a 2006 interview that total strangers still approach him on the street with open arms, shouting "HELLO Uncle Leo!" but he doesn't mind; after playing a multitude of "faceless" character roles since 1955, he's pleased with the recognition.

Any favorite uncles we've omitted? Feel free to suggest aunts and cousins for future columns, too!

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Pop Culture
The Simpsons's Classic Baseball Episode Gets the Mockumentary Treatment
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Fox Sports, YouTube

Opinions vary widely about the continued existence of The Simpsons, which just began its 29th season. Some believe the show ran out of steam decades ago, while others see no reason why the satirical animated comedy can’t run forever.

Both sides will no doubt have something to say about the episode airing Sunday, October 22, which reframes the premise of the show’s classic “Homer at the Bat” installment from 1992 as a Ken Burns-style mockumentary titled Springfield of Dreams: The Legend of Homer Simpson.

As Mashable reports, “Homer at the Bat” saw Montgomery Burns launch his own baseball team and populate it with real major league players like Wade Boggs, Steve Sax, and Jose Canseco to dominate the competition. In the one-hour special, the players will discuss their (fictional) participation, along with interviews featuring Homer and other members of the animated cast.

It’s not clear how much of the special will break the fourth wall and go into the actual making of the episode, a backstory that involves guest star Ken Griffey Jr. getting increasingly frustrated recording his lines and Canseco’s wife objecting to a scene in which her husband's animated counterpart wakes up in bed with lecherous schoolteacher Edna Krabappel.

Morgan Spurlock (Super-Size Me) directed the special, which is slated to air on Fox at either 3 p.m. EST or 4:30 p.m. EST depending on NFL schedules in local markets. There will also be a new episode of The Simpsons—an annual Halloween-themed "Treehouse of Horror" installment—airing in its regular 8 p.m. time slot.

[h/t Mashable]

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entertainment
Check Out These 10 Fun Facts About Supermarket Sweep
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Lifetime Television

Thanks to a recent deleted SNL scene in which host Melissa McCarthy lost her mind on a segment of Supermarket Sweep, we started reminiscing about the heart-pumping, family-friendly game show back in early 2016. Back in the day, you couldn’t watch the show—which debuted in 1965—without fantasizing about reenacting it at your local grocery store. On it, pairs of contestants would race through supermarket aisles, attempting to pack their carts full of the most valuable items, in between quiz-style segments. Revivals of the series stopped filming in 2003, but there's good news for fans who can't let the dream of appearing on the game show die: Deadline reports that it's about to make a television comeback. Relive the high of Supermarket Sweep with these fun facts about the game show.

1. THE MEAT WAS FAKE.

In a special for Great Big Story, former host David Ruprecht confirmed, “All the meat was fake.” Former contestant Mike Futia reaffirmed the fact to The A.V. Club saying, “Everything that was meat, cheese—all that was fake because they’d get the meat juices on their sweaters. And that’s not telegenic, so they wanted to get rid of that.”

2. A LOT OF THE FOOD WAS EXPIRED.

“We shot for about five months every year and they used the same food over and over again,” Ruprecht admitted to Great Big Story. “A lot of the food, having been thrown in and out of the carts for three, four months had gotten pretty beaten up.”

3. WINNERS DIDN’T GET TO KEEP THE FOOD.

Given what Ruprecht said above, contestants were probably thankful that they didn’t get to keep the food. And according to Great Big Story, they didn’t get to keep their sweatshirts either. “They got $5000 but they didn’t get their sweatshirts,” said Ruprecht.

4. BEAUTY PRODUCTS COULD WIN YOU THE GAME.

Pro tip: Heading for the beauty aisle instead of the meat freezer could very well have won you the game. “Those who [used this strategy] won,” Ruprecht told Great Big Story. “Instead of five hams and five turkeys that load up your cart, you ... get five hair colorings ... get five of all these expensive health and beauty products. With one cart, you could beat everybody.”

5. FOR CONTESTANTS, PERSONALITY WAS KEY.

Supermarket Sweep was a TV show, after all, and vibrant personalities have always made for good television. “When we were going through the process, they put you in a room with a few other people and ask you sample questions,” former contestant Mike Futia recalled to The A.V. Club. “And you could sense it was because they wanted to see if you were slouching and things like that ... I felt pretty confident that we’d get the callback to have a taping.”

6. WINNING DURING THE TAPING DIDN’T GUARANTEE YOU’D ACTUALLY COLLECT YOUR WINNINGS.

“It was a syndicated show,” Mike Futia explained to The A.V. Club, “so they taped all the episodes, and you didn’t even know if you were going to get the money if you won unless it aired, which could be six months later, because they then had to sell it.” On the bright side: Even if you didn’t collect, at least you could always say you played Supermarket Sweep.

7. SHOOTING DAYS LASTED 12 TO 14 HOURS.

Most of that time consisted of waiting around. “We literally got in a room when we got called back for the actual taping, and they said, ‘Be prepared to be here. It could be a 12- to 14-hour day because there are three pairs of people on each show,’” Futia explained to The A.V. Club. “That day, I want to say they were taping something like eight shows. So you had 48 people just in a room, and the first thing they tape is your introduction where you run down to the camera and everybody gets introduced to [host] David Ruprecht ... Then they call you back and you tape the first segment.”

8. CONTESTANTS WORE DICKEYS.

Talk about dated fashion: “By winning, we didn’t get to keep the sweaters because we got paid,” Futia recalled to The A.V. Club. “But if you lost, your consolation prize was that you got to keep the sweater—but you didn’t get to keep the dickey.”

9. CONTESTANTS GOT TO MAP OUT THEIR ROUTES.

To prevent contestants from looking like chickens running around with their heads cut off, the show allowed them some time to strategize. “When you’re taping the show before the …  Supermarket Sweep round, you get about 10 minutes or so to walk around the supermarket so you can see the prices,” Futia told The A.V. Club. “Everything has a price on it, so ... you map out what you’re going to do. And it’s the weirdest things that were expensive, like hoses.”

10. THE “SUPERMARKET” WAS REALLY, REALLY SMALL.

“A little bit bigger than a bodega in the city” was how Futia described the supermarket set that was built for the 1990s revival of the series. “It’s very tiny. It looks huge, but it’s small. Even in the aisles, you had to be careful if you and your cameraman were running and another group was coming down that aisle. You had to make sure you were all the way to the side or there could have been an accident.”

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