By Frank Barron
Here’s a look ahead at a great program called Pioneers of Television. It’s the second installment of the wonderful Pioneers of Television series coming to PBS from January 18 through February 8. It will put the spotlight on some of the best series and stars in television history. And it was a pleasure to chat with some of the most interesting performers from classic TV shows, including Mission Impossible’s Martin Landau, Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols, Mannix’ Mike Connors, Wild Wild West’s Robert Conrad, and The Big Valley and Dynasty’s Linda Evans. They all have great stories that will be revealed on the show.
The producers, Steven J. Boettcher (who also directed) and Michael J. Trinklein (who wrote the show) have lovingly put together new interviews with legendary stars, such as Landau, Nichols, Connors, Conrad, and Evans. Plus James Garner, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Angie Dickinson, Bill Cosby, Robert Culp, Stefanie Powers, Lee Meriwether, Adam West, Peter Graves, Ernest Borgnine, Fess Parker, and writer Stephen J. Cannell are among them. Some did their last interviews for this show. They were true pioneers on television and helped create iconic images in the genres that still impact the medium today.
Narrated by Kelsey Grammer, the new four-part Pioneers of Television takes viewers behind the scenes for an in depth look at four of the most popular genres in television: science fiction, Westerns, crime dramas and local kids’ TV shows. The series will feature never-before-seen images and timeless footage that is entertaining decades later.
During the tribute to sci-fi shows, Nichols talks about how she was planning to leave Star Trek because she didn’t feel she had enough to do.
“But Dr. Martin Luther King personally asked me to stay on, telling me that my role as an African-American woman in the future, portraying an officer on the Starship Enterprise, was an important role model and a positive influence for millions,” Nichols said. “So I stayed at Dr. King’s request.”
It was interesting to here Landau mention that he turned down the role of Spock in the original Star Trek.
“I thought it would have been torturous,” he said.
Connors, who played the daring detective Mannix for eight years, recalls he played down the toughness of his character “to make him more human.” Whereas Conrad, as James West in the Wild Wild West, says he took every opportunity to flex his muscles in a scene.
“I had 118 fights, and kissed 143, or vice versa. I loved going to work,” he said.
Evans, often listed among the world’s most beautiful women (and I agree), admits the only reason she got into acting was because her parents thought it would help her overcome her shyness. Her first major role was in The Big Valley as the daughter of Barbara Stanwyck, who took the young Evans under her wing.
“Barbara taught me everything about show business and being a good person,” she said. “She was the most gracious person I’ve ever known.”
“Pioneers of Television takes viewers back in time to a different era of entertainment, both humorous and poignant,” says John Wilson, PBS chief 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.”
An icon of television in his own right, Kelsey Grammer, who is currently starring in Broadway’s La Cage Aux Folles, played the celebrated Dr. Frasier Crane over a span of 20 years on two sitcoms, Cheers and Frasier.
“We are thrilled to have Kelsey Grammer as our narrator, a TV legend that has tied the record for the longest-running television character in TV history,” Boettcher said. “We appreciate his resonant voice, but we are even more heartened by his enthusiasm for Pioneers of Television.”
Audiences will also be delighted.