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Knope-Newport and 6 Other Memorable TV Elections

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Image credit: Knope2012.com

Tonight's season finale of Parks and Recreation will feature one of the most hotly contested elections since Truman defeated Dewey. While we wait to see whether Leslie Knope trumps Bobby Newport for a seat on the Pawnee City Council, here are some of our other favorite TV election episodes.

1. Cheers

After Boston City Councilman Kevin Fogarty wins the support of the Cheers gang after a few mindless clichés ("I'm a hard worker, and I take a stand...on the issues of the day...the things that concern you and your family the most."), Dr. Crane bets them that he could get a trained monkey on the ballot and win 10% of the vote. With no simians handy he instead collects signatures and gets naïve bumpkin Woody Boyd into the City Council race. Woody unwittingly aces an interview with a reporter who misinterprets his farming anecdotes as clever political analogies. (Frasier's prescient advice: Just "say the word 'change' about 100 times.") Woody goes on to win the election, and every time Frasier closes his eyes he has visions of a bumbling President Boyd pushing the Big Button and starting World War III.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgEIDGk8JhY

2. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Uncle Philip Banks is running for Circuit Court Judge, but his opponent – incumbent Judge Carl Robinson – is running a smear campaign, calling Uncle Phil “soft on crime” in TV commercials. But Phil refuses to fight dirty and resolves to stick to the issues. The womanizing, slightly sleazy Robinson (played by the inimitable Sherman Hemsley) wins by the largest margin in recent history. All is not lost for Uncle Phil, however, as Robinson soon keels over from a heart attack and Banks is appointed to the bench as his replacement.

3. The Dick Van Dyke Show

During the Camelot years of the early 1960s, Rob and Laura Petrie were often described as the John and Jackie Kennedy of television. That point was reinforced by the writers of The Dick Van Dyke Show in the episode entitled “The Making of a Councilman.” Rob had reluctantly entered the race for a seat on the New Rochelle City Council (“reluctant” because he felt he wasn’t well-versed on the issues) and found himself the toast of the local media and influential women’s clubs strictly due to his good looks and ready wit, as well as his beautiful, elegant wife. His opponent, played by nerdy Wally Cox, possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of everything from local high school athletics to urban redevelopment.

After a press conference, Rob began to suspect that he was running on his “smile,” especially since the most probing question he was asked by the media was a fawning “How tall are you?” Morey Amsterdam even worked in a sly mention of Richard Nixon, further solidifying the Kennedy connection. (Spoiler alert: Rob won the election. But the TV announcer continually mispronounced his surname.)

4. Designing Women

Who doesn’t relish a good Julia Sugarbaker “Terminator”-style rant? And it was obvious throughout her debate with incumbent councilman Wilson Brickett (in “The Candidate” episode) that she was spoiling for a major eruption. Conservative Brickett thought that taxpayer dollars in his school district were wasted on “petticoat sports” and “screwball curriculums (sic)” such as dance and other fine arts. Add that to his pro-gun stance and there wasn’t one of Julia’s buttons he didn’t manage to push. Her classic meltdown was insightful and entertaining, but it cost her the election, of course:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fy8Ebvunt58

5. Frasier

Frasier Crane had no better luck with elections after he moved to Seattle (and his own series). Having twice lost his bid as president of his condo board, he got the bright idea of having his father, Martin, run in his place. Martin was an affable chap, well-liked by the other residents of the Elliott Bay Towers, and if he got elected then Frasier could effectively use him to get his own policies in place. Martin did win the election, and Frasier worked out a careful series of hand signals with him to guide his responses when dealing with tenant complaints. But power went to Martin’s head and he ignored Frasier’s signals and his advice and started implementing his own ideas instead. Or, as Frasier succinctly put it, “Well, well, well - the puppet thinks he’s a real boy!”

6. Green Acres

Oliver Wendell Douglas has had it up to here (my hand is under my chin) with the deplorable road conditions in Hooterville. Come to think of it, there are many other services supposedly provided by the State that are woefully inadequate, in his opinion. Being the civic-minded citizen he is, Douglas does some research to find out exactly who his State Representative is. Turns out it's Ben Hanks, who stops by Hooterville once every four years (right before election time) to pass out official Ben Hanks crab legs, balloons, toupees, enchiladas, gold watches, baby cribs, you name it. Everyone in Hooterville supports kindly, big-hearted Ben Hanks and they very vocally denounce Mr. Douglas (while munching on their Ben Hanks cotton candy) when he finds out that Hanks has padded the State payroll with a host of his relatives and attempts to blow the whistle during a town meeting (held just prior to election time).
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Tell us about these and your other favorite TV Election Day memories!

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The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox
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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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