Friday, June 10, 2016

Classic TV: Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (1968)

Like, let's take a trip back in time, man.

Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In was a mid-season replacement series when it launched in January 1968 on NBC, replacing The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. An amalgam of the British sketch comedy series, That Was The Week That Was, the surrealistic absurd humor of Ernie Kovacs, and the social cultures of the times, Laugh-In lasted six seasons in its original run, with a revolving door of cast members. A pilot had aired in 1967, which did so well that NBC ordered it into series.

Dan Rowan & Dick Martin not only presided over the silliness, but later assumed executive producer duties from series creators George Schlatter & Ed Friendly. Most of the cast were relatively unknown, save for announcer Gary Owens, who had a recurring role on The Green Hornet, and otherwise was better known for his cartoon work (Space Ghost, Roger Ramjet), which he continued to do, as he narrated The Perils of Penelope Pitstop and did some short voice-over bits on Sesame Street, both of which premiered during season 3 of Laugh-In. Alan Sues, who joined the show in season 2, had appeared years earlier in a dramatic role on The Twilight Zone, then had faded into obscurity until being hired for Laugh-In. Arte Johnson, who left after season 5, had also worked in cartoons, particularly for DePatie-Freleng on another NBC show, The Super Six, and would remain associated with DFE for a few more years.

As it was, Laugh-In was a proving ground for a number of stars. Goldie Hawn earned an Oscar for "Cactus Flower", and watched her film career grow after the series ended. Henry Gibson found post-Laugh-In success, earning a Golden Globe nomination for 1975's "Nashville", in which he reunited with castmate Lily Tomlin. Johnson and Ruth Buzzi reprised their characters of Tyrone and Gladys for what amounted to an unofficial spin-off, The Nitwits, Johnson's last series for DFE, which aired on NBC in 1977. That same year, Schlatter relaunched Laugh-In, and introduced actor-evangelist Marjoe Gortner and future Oscar winner Robin Williams to America. Williams would later sign on for Richard Pryor's short-lived series before turning the corner with a certain bizarre alien in Mork & Mindy. NBC decided to cash in on that by reprising the 1977 Laugh-In as a summer 1979 replacement series.

In the midst of it all, series writer Chris Bearde, impressed with the talent search portion of Laugh-In, spun that off into an equally iconic series he developed for Chuck Barris, The Gong Show, which lasted two years on the network (1976-8), this after he had worked for Sonny & Cher and the Hudson Brothers, among others.

Let's take a look at a 2nd season episode with guest stars Greer Garson, Robert Wagner (It Takes a Thief), and Davy Jones (late of The Monkees):



After Hogan's Heroes ended, Richard Dawson and Larry Hovis joined Laugh-In as full-time cast members. Both had appeared during the 1st season, finding time in between tapings of Hogan. The series would return in half-hour reruns during the 80's, which is how I was able to catch up as best as possible.

Rating: B.

No comments: