Tuesday, January 18 at 8 p.m. – Pioneers of Television
(Rochester, NY) – They were the stars of the small screen in the early years of television, and much of the nation came to a halt whenever their shows aired. They strolled, sprinted, fought, laughed, cried and loved through worlds that took viewers to places past, present and future. As the originators of these innovative television formats, they provided an essential escape for millions of viewers who eagerly waited to watch them each week. Pioneers of Television returns to WXXI-TV for a second season, beginning Tuesday, January 18 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV/HD (DT 21.1/cable 1011 and 11).
The four-part series, airing Tuesdays, Januuary 18 through February 8, offers the inside stories of these formidable visionaries who recall the fledgling medium they shaped with their creativity, foresight and wisdom. The series once again transports viewers behind-the-scenes for a revealing look at the inception of four of the most popular genres in television: science fiction, westerns, crime dramas and local kids’ TV. Kelsey Grammer narrates.
Utilizing new interviews with legendary stars, along with never-before-seen images and timeless footage that still entertains decades later, Pioneers of Television brings to life the fascinating history of some of the most successful and beloved shows in television. Stars such as James Garner, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, Angie Dickinson, Bill Cosby, Robert Culp, Stefanie Powers, Martin Landau, Peter Graves, Robert Conrad, Linda Evans, Mike Connors, Fess Parker and writer Stephen J. Cannell are among those interviewed whose imprint on the iconic genres they helped create still impact the medium today.
Pioneers of Television takes viewers back in time to a different era of entertainment, both humorous and poignant,” said John Wilson, PBS chief TV programming executive. “Executive producers Steve Boettcher and Michael Trinklein have once again delivered a remarkable series that captures the innovation, genius and vision behind the early years of television.”
Pioneers of Television depicts the epic beginnings of the four featured television genres and explores the stories and influences of their groundbreaking pioneers. The hour-long episodes are:
Science Fiction (Tuesday, January 18 at 8 p.m.): Storytellers Gene Roddenberry, Irwin Allen and Rod Serling created the storylines and characters behind the best-loved futuristic television of their time. But as Roddenberry’s Star Trek competed for ratings with Allen’s Lost in Space, each show’s creator aimed for a very different direction. This episode explores how Roddenberry and Serling (of The Twilight Zone) used the future as a stage for modern morality plays, and William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols and other science-fiction stars describe how they prepared to interact on-camera with a malevolent alien force … or, perhaps, a giant radish.
Westerns (Tuesday, January 25 at 8 p.m.): Known everywhere as the quintessential American cultural identity, Westerns filled small screens across the country night after night and were some of the most successful television shows in history. Fess Parker’s portrayal of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett channeled the bravery, independence, honesty and rugged individualism of a young nation — and made Walt Disney enough money to build an empire. Westerns introduced James Garner, who starred in the television hit Maverick, where he developed the reluctant hero character that would cement his successful TV and film career. Garner, in his only recent interview, and Parker tell their stories, and Linda Evans recalls how two strong female characters emerged with her onscreen interaction with Barbara Stanwyck in The Big Valley. This episode also examines the success of Robert Conrad in The Wild Wild West, the popularity of Bonanza and the creation of the classic series Gunsmoke with James Arness — one of the longest-running television series of all time.
Crime Dramas (Tuesday, February 1 at 8 p.m.): As viewers reveled in being transported to shadowy underworlds, creative geniuses emerged in the forms of Jack Webb (Dragnet), Desi Arnaz (The Untouchables) and Bruce Geller (Mannix and Mission: Impossible). Groundbreaking actors Bill Cosby (I Spy) and Angie Dickinson (Police Woman) reveal the methods behind their successes as the first African-American and breakthrough female lead characters in a television series. Barbara Bain and Martin Landau share the secrets behind the innovative hit Mission: Impossible; Peter Falk’s friends and colleagues recall the evolution of his Columbo character; and James Garner and series creator Stephen J. Cannell recount the success of the The Rockford Files.
Local Kids’ TV (Tuesday, February 8 at 8 p.m.): Local kids’ programs shaped the childhoods of millions of American children in the early years of television. Performers such as Willard Scott and William Shatner honed their skills performing on live TV with small budgets and little support. With the flimsiest of second-hand store costumes and their own imaginations, they learned how to make their audience laugh, smile and think. One early talent, Stan Freberg, got off the bus in the middle of Hollywood, became a cartoon voice talent and created Time for Beany — a show that captured seven out of 10 viewers, including Albert Einstein, during its run in Los Angeles. Freberg’s story is told along with the stories of legendary Muppets creator Jim Henson (who started on local television as a teenager), actor Chuck McCann (originator of New York’s “Puppet Hotel”), Larry Harmon (who popularized Bozo the Clown) and Nancy Claster (who developed the Baltimore kids’ series Romper Room — the first franchised show in television history).
Access behind-the-scenes photos and watch video interviews with television pioneers on the Pioneers of Television Facebook page (facebook.com/pioneersoftelevision). The series will also be accompanied by a website on pbs.org, with a special “in memoriam” section featuring videos of the last interviews of Stephen J. Cannell, Robert Culp, Peter Graves and Fess Parker filmed by the Pioneers of Television producers shortly before their passing in 2010.
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