History on Display with Warner Bros. Television at Paley Center

From l, stars of “The Waltons,” David Harper, Eric Scott, Joe Conley, Earl Hamner Jr. (series creator), Judy Norton, Mary McDonough, and Kami Cotler.

The Warner Bros. Television Group joined forces with the Paley Center for Media for a special retrospective at the Paley’s Beverly Hills multimedia museum. Clips from Warner Bros. TV shows and exhibits featuring sets, costumes, props, original animation, art, patent filings, and more artifacts are on display to observe nearly 60 years of Warner Bros. history.

The exhibit, called “Television Out of the Box,” takes a look at the creation and execution of some of the most memorable TV shows and miniseries from Warn-er Bros. Television. It starts in the ’50s, during the studio’s first ven-tures into television production, and celebrates every monu-mental show up to the present. Included among the noteworthy productions are Maverick, Cheyenne, Kung Fu, 77 Sunset Strip, Wonder Woman, Dallas, Knots Landing, The Waltons, Roots, ER, The West Wing, Friends, Murphy Brown, The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, The Closer, The Vampire Di-aries, Fringe, etc.

For me it was a personal thrill, since one of the major animation displays puts the spotlight on the Hanna-Barbera company. I wrote many cartoon storylines for my old friend Joe Barbera back in the early years of the animation powerhouse. To my surprise, I discovered Warner Bros. TV president Peter Roth also worked with Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera early in his career. We chatted about those great creative guys at the special event held for the writers from the Television Critics Association.

We marveled and reminisced when seeing the impressive ani-mation legacy from Hanna-Barbera, plus Looney Tunes and DC Entertainment. There’s even a walk-in animation cel, so visitors can be part of a Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoon.

Lots of talent was around that night at the Paley. Producer Chuck Lorre was on hand and has a special section for his three current hit comedy series The Big Bang Theory, Mike & Molly, and Two and a Half Men. Lorre said he has a book coming out titled What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Bitter.

Ed Asner said he was headed to New York to star in a Broadway play called Grace. Ed reminded me that he worked with David L. Wolper on the groundbreaking Roots miniseries. Wolper was one of the most prolific producers in Hollywood, and an old friend of mine. It was David who produced The Thorn Birds, which also had a display, as well as his sitcoms Chico and the Man and Welcome Back, Kotter. A diverse legacy from a man who is greatly missed in Hollywood.

Still looking like a tough guy who would knock the battery off your shoulder, Robert Conrad, Agent James West of Wild, Wild West fame, sat and greeted all the fans of that classic show. Joe Regalbuto from Murphy Brown and Marg Helgenberger from CSI were equally happy to talk about their Warner Bros. days.

Earl Hamner Jr., creator of The Waltons, was there surrounded by so many of the cast members: Mary McDonough, Judy Norton, Kami Cotler, Joe Conley, Eric Scott, and David Harper. It turned out to be a great reunion in ad-vance of the big 40th anniversary of The Waltons gala reunion scheduled for Sept. 29 at the Wil-shire Ebell Theatre. It will benefit the Environmental Charter Middle School.

Earl and I talked about “the good old days of TV when shows weren’t crass.” Back then he had his show on the air, and I had my own creation, a Western series called The Man from Blackhawk running on ABC. It was just good storytelling, nothing to be ashamed about. Ah, memories.

Donna Mills, Joan Van Ark, and Michelle Lee of Knots Land-ing were the center of attention over by the costume display showing the gowns of that era. And a pleasant memory for me was when Michelle Lee (still a knock-out!) cried out “I know you!” Yes, years ago, she, Jimmy Farentino, Francis Coppola (he didn’t use his middle name yet), and I use to pal around and hit the clubs at night. They were fun times.

It was a great event, and even without all the stars around to reminisce about their shows, the exhibits at the Paley Center are well worth a look. Whether you’re in the industry or just a fan, you can enjoy sitting in the Monk’s Diner booth from Seinfeld. Or you can sing along at the special Theme Song Theater, playing themes from many iconic series, including Friends, The Flintstones, The Dukes of Hazzard, Gilligan’s Island, and Welcome Back, Kotter.

It’s a nice tour down memory lane, so “Welcome Back” Warner Bros. The “Television Out of the Box” exhibit will have rotating dis-plays at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills for the next three years.