This is the first in a series of examinations of TV legends and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.
TV LEGEND: Cheers was a fire hazard.
On November 28, 1942, the trendy Boston nightclub, the Cocoanut Grove, caught fire with a packed crowd inside of over 1,000 people (the club’s capacity was 460).
The club had recently expanded with an attached lounge (the Melody Lounge). The club was decked up in a Casablanca theme, so there were paper and cloth decorations hanging from the ceiling and paper palm trees everywhere. Around 10:30 PM, a busboy went to replace a missing/blown out light bulb and dropped the replacement. He lit a match to find the bulb on the dark floor, found the bulb, blew out the match and replaced the bulb. However, the match managed to set a nearby paper palm tree on fire. That lit up and quickly spread to the ceiling where it set other decorations on fire – soon the fire was feeding off of oxygen and spread through the club.
Decades later, a re-opened fire investigation determined that it was actually methyl chloride that had leaked from a faulty refrigerator in the Melody Lounge that had led to the fire spreading so quickly.
In any event, while the fire itself was deadly, easily HUNDREDS of lives could have been saved had it not been for the construction of the bar. The main entrance was a lone revolving door. As you might imagine, a lone revolving door is quickly rendered useless by hundreds of people charging at it. Other sidedoors were actually bolted shut to keep patrons from skipping out on their bill. A stained-glass window was boarded over. And the few doors that WERE open were doors that opened IN to the building, and again, when a large group of people are charging towards a door, a door that opens IN to a building is effectively useless.
The tragedy was horrific, and actually stole some headlines from World War II.
The owner of the bar was later arrested and convicted on 19 charges of involuntary manslaughter (19 random victims were chosen to represent the dead as a whole).
So what does this gruesome turn of events have to do with Cheers, you ask?
Well, some of the many changes in the fire code in Boston after the Cocoanut Grove tragedy is that any revolving door entrance has to have a regular entrance adjacent to it. In addition, any and all exits from a public bar, restaurant, club, etc. have to open OUT. They cannot open IN.
Let’s take a look at Cheers, courtesy of the Season 7 episode, “Norm, Is That You?”
Yep, Cheers’ entrance opens IN.
Obviously, the Cheers bar is a set and not a real bar, but still, that’s pretty darn interesting.
TV LEGEND: Empty Nest was a spin-off without actually spinning off the lead characters.
Empty Nest is already notable as one of the few spin-off TV series to ever spin its own series off (which Empty Nest did with Nurses in 1991), but the sitcom starring Richard Mulligan as a recent widower dealing with both the death of his wife and his two adult daughters moving back home.
The show ran from October 1988 to April 1995. Paired with The Golden Girls, it was a mighty ratings one-two punch in the late 80s/early 90s for NBC (and Mulligan even took home an Emmy for Best Lead Actor in a Comedy in 1989).
However, the show had a rather bizarre lineage from Golden Girls to Empty Nest. You see, the show was a spin-off of the Golden Girls without any of the lead characters actually ever appearing on an episode of The Golden Girls!
On May 16, 1987, the season 2 finale of the Golden Girls aired. Titled “Empty Nests,” it was about a married couple (played by Paul Dooley and Rita Moreno) who were having marital problems while dealing with “empty nest syndrome,” which is when older couples deal with the fact that their children have, you know, left the “nest.” The couple (George and Renee Corliss)’s daughter had just left home for college.
Show creator (and Golden Girls creator and, now that I mention it, Nurses creator, as well) Susan Harris was dealing with “empty nest syndrome” herself at the time, but the network felt that even with a sweet Golden girls lead-in, a show about a bickering older couple would grow tired.
So (according to Harris) “we killed the wife” and the show suddenly became about a widowed pediatrician and his adult daughters moving back home, and in October of 1988, Empty Nest debuted and the rest is TV history!
David Leisure was on the original version, but as a test pilot neighbor named Oliver instead of the now familiar cruise ship pursor Charley. Also, the same set was used for the house.
Still, I find it quite amazing that, here, a CONCEPT was spun-off rather than actual CHARACTERS!
Thanks to Matt Browning’s awesome Empty Nest web site for some information!
TV LEGEND: There are no black people in Mayberry.
Let’s get it out of the way right off the bat. In the entire eight season run of The Andy Griffith Show, there was only one black character who ever had a speaking line.
That’s pretty weak right there.
That said, the oft-repeated claim that there are no black people in Mayberry is false on the face, not even counting the aforementioned Rockne Tarkington, who played Opie’s football coach, Flip Conway, in one of the later seasons of the show.
In addition, I am not counting Mayberry RFD, which was better with regards to black characters having speaking roles.
No, just counting regular episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, there were frequent usage of black extras on the show.
From a Mayberry fan site, here are a bunch of episodes with black extras in them…
Now don’t get me wrong, that’s not very impressive, and if you wish to complain about the meager display of black residents of Mayberry, I wouldn’t blame you.
But the actual claim (and I’ve seen it made often) is that there are no black people in Mayberry, and that’s not true.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org