Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Odd Couple - and Big Mouth Howard Cosell

The classic TV series The Odd Couple is one of my favorite comedies. ABC televised it from September 1970 through March 1975. The network continually bounced the sitcom between Thursday and Friday nights using different time slots. The show received mediocre ratings during its original run of 114 episodes, but achieved much greater success during syndication.

The Odd Couple was set in New York City and starred Tony Randall as Felix Unger and Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison. Randall played a commercial photographer while Klugman portrayed a sports columnist for the fictional New York Herald newspaper. The TV show was based on a 1965 Broadway play of the same name written by Neil Simon. The initial season used a laugh track, but for subsequent seasons, the show was filmed before a live studio audience in Hollywood.

The two central characters were both divorced and shared a Manhattan apartment. Felix was quite meticulous, obsessed with cleanliness, and prone to sinus attacks. Oscar was rather sloppy and disheveled and would often wear a Mets hat backwards. Felix loved the opera while Oscar frequently gambled and smoked cigars. Randall and Klugman played their respective roles brilliantly. The duo had tremendous on-screen chemistry and the contrast between the opposite personalities of the characters worked perfectly. The episodes often featured sequences of rapid-fire dialogue filled with humorous one-liners. The banter between Felix and Oscar defined the show.

During some of the early seasons, the show used a variation of the following opening theme narration which ended with the classic question: "Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?"



Garry Marshall produced the TV series. The cast included two prominent supporting characters. One was Murray Greshler played by Al Molinaro. Murray was a policeman who was a regular in Felix and Oscar's poker game. The other was Myrna Turner played by Garry's sister Penny Marshall. Myrna was Oscar's secretary at the newspaper. Both Penny and Al would later surface on the sitcom Happy Days which Garry would also produce.

The Odd Couple utilized guest stars on several episodes. One of the most notable of these was Howard Cosell who was the most recognized sports announcer at the time. His Q score and notoriety were exploding as Monday Night Football on ABC grew in popularity. He also called many boxing matches and did segments for Wide World of Sports.

In a bit of ABC cross-promotion, Cosell made two appearances on the sitcom, both times portraying himself. As an aside, is there any TV personality in history more suited to playing himself/herself than Cosell? I would think not.

His first appearance came in a 1972 episode appropriately titled Big Mouth. In this show, Felix has landed a photography job for a cola advertisement spot featuring Cosell. The script contains several verbal clashes between Cosell and Oscar which played on the real-life disdain that Cosell and the New York Daily News sportswriter Dick Young demonstrated toward each other at that time.

The first part of the episode illustrates a typical exchange between Felix and Oscar. I especially like the way Felix exclaims "You took a cab to come here to borrow money?" As soon as Cosell enters, he and Oscar immediately start trading insults. Next, we have a super scene where Felix is ranting at Oscar who is at the typewriter working on a column which blasts Cosell. And note the way he "files" the article with Myrna.



The next clip includes a memorable "handshake" between Oscar and Cosell. Then there is the classic sinus and nasal twang routine resulting in Cosell calling Felix an "inane drone". Later, the script calls for Cosell to show off by rapidly rattling off the entire Colts defensive lineup from memory.



The final segment begins with Oscar learning that despite his request to pull the column, Myrna convinced the editor to run it. During the photo shoot, Cosell sees the article and storms out of the studio. In a broadcast scene, Cosell introduces Charlie - winner of the (classically titled) "Why I Want to Be Like Howard Cosell" contest. Cosell then tries to embarrass Oscar by putting him live on the air without warning. Oscar remains silent, overcome with stagefright, but Felix takes the microphone and jumps in with some elegant and longwinded play-by-play to bail out his best friend.

One more point of interest - According to a book by Mark Ribowsky, the lengthy departing remark from 8:09-8:36 mark on this clip was actually written by Cosell.



Cosell made a return appearance on The Odd Couple in the 1975 episode Your Mother Wears Army Boots. ABC executive producer Roone Arledge also played himself in that show as did opera singer Martina Arroyo. That episode also used the Monday Night Football angle with ABC hiring Oscar as a temporary fill-in for Alex Karras in the booth.

For a "non-actor", I feel that Cosell demonstrated rather impressive acting skills on these shows and added greatly to the entertainment. He sounded authentic with his distinctive and deliberate vocal pattern. The writers gave him many great lines, but Cosell was willing to play a caricature of himself and was quite successful in doing so. At various points in the 1972 show, Cosell describes himself as "the big man", "the great one", "the gifted one", "the single most identifiable voice in all broadcasting", and refers to "my own special talents". In the 1975 episode, he brazenly refers to Monday Night Football as "my show".

The production was surprisingly shoddy regarding the football games Cosell was broadcasting. The 1972 episode covers two Giants games and both times the displayed footage contains artificial turf. The show implies that the first game was in New York and specifically describes the second game as being at Yankee Stadium, but it had natural grass. The Giants didn't play home games on artificial turf until 1976. Charlie calls a play as ending at the 49-yard line, but the footage shows a tackle around the 30-yard line. On the play Felix calls, he describes Roger Staubach being stopped for no gain, but the footage shows Duane Thomas being tackled. In the 1975 episode, Cosell describes a 19-yard pass by Joe Namath, but the footage shows the play covering only 11 yards. Finally, both episodes portray Cosell as an NFL play-by-play announcer rather than the unique "third man in the booth" role he actually filled on the ABC games.

Other guest stars with sports ties who played themselves on this series included Deacon Jones, Bubba Smith, Bobby Riggs, and Billie Jean King. Some additional celebrities who did likewise: Bob Hope, Dick Clark, Betty White, Richard Dawson, Hugh Hefner, and Wolfman Jack along with game show hosts Allen Ludden (Password) and Monty Hall (Let's Make a Deal).

Randall and Klugman each had long and successful acting careers, but both were best known for their roles on The Odd Couple as evidenced by virtually any obituary or tribute written for either one. Klugman won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series in both 1971 and 1973 for his role as Oscar while Randall took the same honor in 1975 for his role as Felix. During the entire 5-season run of the series, both Randall and Klugman were among the handful of nominees for this award every year.

In addition to the Me-TV networkThe Odd Couple is also currently available on the Cloo TV network and many clips from the series appear on Youtube.

This post is part of Me-TV's Summer of Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Go to http://classic-tv-blog-assoc.blogspot.com/ to view more posts in this blogathon. You can also go to http://metvnetwork.com/ to learn more about Me-TV and view its summer line-up of classic TV shows.

Monday, July 15, 2013

History of British Open on US TV (1962-present)

The British Open (more properly titled The Open Championship) is the oldest golf major, but has the shortest history on US TV. However, by 2010, the tournament with the distinctive yellow scoreboards was getting the most network TV coverage in the US of any golf major.

For many years the networks holding the US TV rights would televise the tournament primarily using video feeds from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). For the entire decade of the 1970s, all US TV coverage was on tape delay. The Open also lagged far behind the other majors in moving to HDTV broadcasts.

For detailed TV schedules and announcers by year, see my complete research on British Open TV history over at 506sports (free registration required to view).

<EDITED on 7/19/2017 to bring this up to date as of the 2017 tournament>  

Chronology of British Open TV coverage

1961 - ABC had planned to provide taped coverage of the Friday 7/14 final round on Wide World of Sports the next day, but ABC scrapped those plans when the Friday action was rained out. At the time, the British Open was scheduled as a 3-day event ending with 36 holes on Friday. The 36-hole finish took place on Saturday with no US TV coverage.

1962 - ABC provided taped coverage of the Friday action on a Sunday edition of Wide World of Sports with Jim McKay narrating. ABC would do the same but on a next-day basis on Saturdays from 1963-1965.

1966 - The Open changed to a 4-day format with the final round on Saturday. For the first time, ABC televised the event live. The network provided 1.5 hours of coverage via Early Bird satellite of the Saturday round with McKay and Byron Nelson calling the action.

1968 - Chris Schenkel worked alongside Nelson for the telecast which covered the final 4 holes.

1969 - ABC increased to 3 hours of live coverage. This was the first time the Open was televised in color in the US.

1970 - After 4 consecutive years of live telecasts, ABC regressed to late afternoon tape delay coverage of the Saturday final round and would continue this throughout the 1970s. ABC also reduced its coverage to 1.5 hours. Dave Marr joined the ABC crew. On Sunday, ABC added tape delayed coverage of the 18-hole playoff.

1972- ABC expanded the tape delayed coverage to 2 hours and this would remain the case through 1979.

1975 - ABC added coverage of the Sunday 18-hole playoff on tape delay. ABC started using Peter Alliss from the BBC on the Open. Alliss would split time on the BBC and US TV networks on Open coverage every year through 2015.

1980 - The Open shifted to the modern Thursday-Sunday schedule. On Saturday, ABC carried 1 hour on tape delay, but the network provided 2 hours of live coverage on Sunday. This was the first live coverage of the event on ABC since 1969.

1981 - ABC provided 1.5 hours of live coverage on Saturday for a weekend total of 3.5 hours.

1982 - ESPN provided 11 hours of coverage of the Thursday and Friday rounds. Jim Simpson and Lou Palmer were among the announcers during the early years of the ESPN coverage. ABC increased to 2 hours on Saturday. Jack Whitaker joined the ABC team.

1984 - McKay did not work the Open as ABC kept him in the US to prepare for the upcoming Los Angeles Olympics. Whitaker anchored the ABC telecasts. ABC increased the Sunday coverage to 3 hours.

1988 - Due to heavy rain, the final round was delayed until Monday. ABC added 1.5 hours of tape delayed coverage of the Monday finish.

1990 - ABC expanded to 4 hours each day on the weekend. Roger Twibell anchored the ABC coverage.

1992 - Brent Musburger took over as the ABC lead announcer with Steve Melnyk as lead analyst.

1993 - Peter Jacobsen worked as lead analyst for ABC, but Melnyk would resume this role again the following year.

1997 - Mike Tirico took over as the ABC lead announcer.

1998 - ABC installed Curtis Strange as its lead analyst.

1999 - ABC moved the Saturday coverage to ESPN around 11:30am so that ABC News could follow the search for the missing plane of John F. Kennedy Jr.

2000 - ABC increased to 4.5 hours on each weekend day.

2001 - ABC expanded to 5.5 hours on both Saturday and Sunday and would continue this schedule through 2009.

2003 - TNT took over the Thursday and Friday rounds. Ernie Johnson and Bobby Clampett anchored the TNT coverage which also used some of the ABC announcers. TNT also started providing 2 hours of early morning coverage on both weekend days prior to the ABC air-time.

2004 - ABC installed Ian Baker-Finch and Nick Faldo as co-#1 analysts.

2005 - Paul Azinger joined Faldo as ABC co-lead analyst. Faldo made the cut in the event and joined the ABC coverage after finishing play.

2006 - Tirico filled in on TNT for Johnson who was undergoing chemotherapy.

2008 - ABC added Tom Watson to its TV team after Faldo left for CBS. Watson played in the event, but missed the cut. Baker-Finch took over as lead analyst on TNT.

2009 - Watson had again been scheduled to join the ABC weekend telecasts. However, he never made it to the broadcast booth as he not only made the cut, but nearly won the tournament.

2010 - ESPN took over the entire tournament. This marked the first time that a men's golf major was exclusively on cable in the US. ESPN began the Thursday and Friday coverage at 4am ET and stayed on the air for a scheduled 11 live hours both days. Tirico and Azinger remained as the lead announcers. This was also the first British Open televised in HDTV.

2014 - ESPN shifted its Saturday coverage to start at 5am ET after the tournament moved tee times earlier due to an ominous weather forecast.

2015 - ESPN started the Saturday coverage at 2am ET to show completion of the second round (but that was soon halted for wind). The third round was moved to Sunday. ESPN added Monday coverage of the final round.

2016 - NBC took over the rights and combined with Golf Channel for 49.5 hours of scheduled live coverage - a record to date for any golf major. This marks the first major for GC which came on the air at 1:30 am ET on Thursday and Friday for a total of 14.5 scheduled hours both days. Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller anchored the NBC telecasts.


Total scheduled US TV time for the British Open by year

Note: I am not including added coverage (such as playoffs) in these numbers, but I did mention these cases in the above chronology. I am also not including taped highlight shows, but am including original tape delay coverage. The hours represent live coverage except where noted.

1962-1965:   at most 1.5 hours (ABC) - covered on tape as part of Wide World of Sports
1966-1968:   1.5 hours (ABC)
1969:             3 hours (ABC)
1970-1971:  1.5 hours on tape delay (ABC)
1972-1979:  2 hours on tape delay (ABC)
1980:            3 hours total with 1 on tape delay and 2 live (ABC)
1981:             3.5 hours (ABC)
1982:             15 hours (11 on ESPN, 4 on ABC)
1983              14 hours (10 on ESPN, 4 on ABC)
1984-1989:   15 hours (10 on ESPN, 5 on ABC)
1990-1999:   18 hours (10 on ESPN, 8 on ABC)
2000:             21 hours (12 on ESPN, 9 on ABC)
2001-2002:   23 hours (12 on ESPN, 11 on ABC)
2003-2004:   30 hours (19 on TNT, 11 on ABC)
2005-2006:   31 hours (20 on TNT, 11 on ABC)
2007-2009:   30 hours (19 on TNT, 11 on ABC)
2010-2011:    37 hours (ESPN)
2012:              36 hours (ESPN)
2013-2015:    37 hours (ESPN)
2016:             49.5 hours (35 on GC, 14.5 on NBC)
2017:             49.5 hours (34.5 on GC, 15 on NBC)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Me-TV Summer of Classic TV blogathon

If you are a fan of classic TV, you will want to check out this blogathon which starts on Mon 7/15. The event is sponsored by the Classic TV Blog Association (CTVBA) of which I am a member. It will feature posts by several talented bloggers about various classic TV series which currently run on the Me-TV network.

I am participating with a post on The Odd Couple which will have somewhat of a sports angle and will appear on my blog on Wed 7/17.

Throughout the week, other blogs will cover classic TV shows such as:
  • Get Smart
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • My Three Sons
  • The Honeymooners
  • Dragnet
  • Bewitched
  • and many more 
Over 30 classic TV blogs are signed up to participate. See the complete blogathon schedule on the CTVBA site.