Did Eddie Murphy Get His SNL Gig After Another Comedian Forgot to Sign His Contract?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Eddie Murphy’s spot on Saturday Night Live was only available because another comedian forgot to sign his contract.

Reader Jim S. wrote in to ask about the following piece of information that he had read about how Eddie Murphy was cast on Saturday Night Live in 1980’s Season 6. From TV Tropes, it states that Robrt Townsend “[a]uditioned for season six and was chosen to be a cast member, but everyone else (save Jean Doumanian) saw potential in an up-and-coming stand-up comedian at the time named Eddie Murphy. Also, Robert Townsend forgot to sign his contract.”

Robert Townsend, of course, was a talented stand-up comedian in the early 1980s who later gained a good deal of acclaim for his film work, especially his 1987 satirical film, Hollywood Shuffle, which he wrote, directed and starred in (Townsend would also later create and star in Meteor Man and the sitcom, The Parent’Hood).

It is true that when Jean Doumanian became the producer of Saturday Night Live for its sixth season, when she had to put together an entirely new cast, she was looking to hire just a single black actor for the cast. She also did, in fact, want Townsend at one point but she eventually was convinced to hire Eddie Murphy, who, of course, became a superstar…

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Were Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie Named After It’s a Wonderful Life?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie were named after George Bailey’s two best friends in It’s a Wonderful Life.

In the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey’s two best friends are Bedford Falls’ town cop, Bert (played by Ward Bond) and the town cabbie, Ernie (Frank Faylen)….

As you all know by now, two of the most popular Muppets on Sesame Street are the two best friends, Bert and Ernie…

Naturally, over the years, people have assumed that the Sesame Street characters were named after the It’s a Wonderful Life characters. You see this all the time, even from Sesame Street produces.

But is it true?
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Why Was Cheers’ Classic Thanksgiving Episode Protested?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Cheers received protests over their famous Thanksgiving episode, “Thanksgiving Orphans.”

One of the all-time great episode of Cheers occurred in the fifth season of the series, Shelley Long’s final season on the show. Titled “Thanksgiving Orphans,” the episode was written by Cheri Eichen and Bill Steinkellner (they are married and Eichen now goes by Cheri Steinkellner, but I don’t know if they were married at the time that they wrote this episode together). The concept of the episode is that due to various events, pretty much all of the gang from Cheers are alone on Thanksgiving. Cliff’s mother is feeding the homeless, and Cliff wasn’t interested in doing that this year. Norm’s wife, Vera, was visiting her family and Norm did not want to go. Woody decided not to travel to Indiana to spend the holiday with his family. Sam’s girlfriend at the time had her sister in town and they didn’t want to spend the holiday with Sam’s friends. Carla’s kids were spending the holiday with her ex-husband, Nick, and his new wife, Loretta. Diane had been invited to a party by one of her professors, but discovered that he intended for his graduate students to work as servers at the party. Finally, Frasier was just plain lonely. So everyone joined together for dinner at Carla’s new home.

However, a screw-up with the turkey led to dinner being so late that all of the side dishes got cold and the guests all got heated. A little food was thrown and then suddenly, everyone was ready for a food fight when Diane walked in on them from the kitchen, where she had just been checking on the turkey…

She exhorts them to all calm down and it looks like she might be succeeding…when Sam suddenly hits her right in her face with some cranberry sauce and so the food fight began!

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Was WKRP in Cincinnati’s Famous Turkey Drop Based in Reality?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: The famous “WKRP in Cincinnati” turkey drop was based on an actual turkey drop.

Probably the most famous thanksgiving episode of any television sitcom is “Turkeys Away,” from the first season of “WKRP in Cincinnati.” The series was about a struggling radio station that changed formats from easy listening to rock and roll. The conflict (and thus, the comedy) came from the contrast between the people who worked for the station beforehand, bumbling but kindhearted station manager Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump), sleazy ad salesman Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) and timid news reporter Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) and the new, young and hip hires, program director Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) and disc jockeys Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) and Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid).

The seventh episode of the series, “Turkeys Away” (which actually aired on October 30th, 1978, despite being the show’s Thanksgiving episode), showed Carlson trying to take on more of a hand’s on approach to prove that he still had what it took to run the station. He came up with a secret promotion for Thanksgiving. It was all hush hush until the end of the episode, where Nessman was on the street, reporting live when the event occurred.

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Was Jonathan Rollins on L.A. Law Based on Barack Obama?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Jonathan Rollins on L.A. Law was based, at least in part, on a young Barack Obama.

In 1987, the hit television series L.A. Law introduced a brand new character, a brilliant, young and charismatic African-American lawyer named Jonathan Rollins, played by Blair Underwood. The character was created by the show’s co-creator, Stephen Bochco.

The character would become a major part of the series, staying on the show for the rest of the series’ run (all the way to the finale in 1994) and the character would become more and more of a central figure as the show went on (as other stars, like Jimmy Smits and Harry Hamlin, left the series).

An interesting facet of Rollins’ back story on the show was that he was the first African-America President of the Harvard Law Review.

This has led people, looking back, to wonder if the character was based, even in part, on former United States President Barack Obama, who was the ACTUAL first African-American President of the Harvard Law Review.

After all, Obama’s history-making success at Harvard was big news at the time, with the “New York Times” even doing an article on the topic, “First Black Elected to Head Harvard’s Law Review.”

So it is certainly feasible that Bochko would hear about it. And it would be pretty cool if true, right? So IS it true?
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Was Frosty the Snowman Originally Not a Christmas Story?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: “Frosty the Snowman” was not originally a Christmas story.

One of the most famous Christmas animated TV specials is “Frosty the Snowman,” which debuted in 1969. It was by Rankin/Bass Productions, the same company that produced the classic Christmas animated special, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which debuted five years earlier. Narrated by Jimmy Durante, the special involves a magic hat that transforms a snowman, Frosty, into a living being. The magician who owned the hat wants it back now that he knows it contained actual magic, so the kids had to get together and find a way to bring Frosty to the North Pole to keep him from melting. However, once there, Frosty sacrifices himself to warm up the little girl, Karen, who took him to the North Pole. He melts, but Santa Claus explains that Frosty is made out of special Christmas snow and thus can never truly melt. Frosty then comes back to life and everyone has a Merry Christmas.

Again, as noted, the special is a Christmas classic and the soundtrack is beloved, as well, including not just the title track, but a great version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” However, did you know that originally, “Frosty the Snowman” wasn’t about Christmas, at all?
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Did Johnny Carson Copy the Famous “Pretend to Eat a Potato Chip from a Potato Chip Collector” Gag from David Letterman?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Johnny Carson stole the “pretend to eat a potato chip from a potato chip collector” routine from David Letterman.

Johnny Carson was famous for having guests on the Tonight Show who weren’t necessarily celebrities, but were just interesting people for whatever reason. Even when the show reduced in length from an hour and a half (and therefore they had much less time for guests, so they no longer had on the authors that they used to have on as the final guest of the night) they made sure to keep these non-celebrity guests on the show. They gave the Tonight Show a certain sort of charm. Especially since Carson also famously did not mock these people. He treated them like regular guests, although, of course, he knew that doing so would make the AUDIENCE laugh, but it is important to note that Carson played these interviews straight.

That is why, when Carson actually pulled a little gag on one of these guests, it stood out so much. People weren’t used to Carson messing with a regular person (Carson would, of course, would pull pranks on his celebrity friends, but not a “civilian”). It was more something that you would see on Late Night with David Letterman.

And that, in fact, is what led to a legend involving one of the few times that Carson DID mess with a regular person.

In October 1987, Carson had on Myrtle Young, who worked at a potato chip factory checking the quality of the chips. She would then collect the irregular potato chips as part of her collection and so she went on the Tonight Show to show off her treasures and at one point, Carson’s sidekick, Ed McMahon, distracted Young and while her back was turned, Carson pretended to eat one of her chips…

Her reaction really sold it. Such shock! But then Carson consoled her and she totally laughed at the situation and it was all good. A classic TV movement.

However, a lot of folks over the years noted that Young actually made her FIRST late night debut on Late Night with David Letterman, and many remember Letterman doing the same thing! I’ve seen it in a few different places, but here’s from the YouTube comments of the Carson clip…

As I recall, she was first on Late Night with David Letterman. Letterman did the exact same joke, eating a random potato chip pretending it was one of hers. I always wondered if Carson called Letterman and asked if he could use that joke, or if they just ripped it off altogether. I wish the Letterman interview with her were online.

I, too, was obviously curious about this, so I asked the greatest resource for David Letterman clips known to man, Don Giller, and he found the original Letterman clip and posted is so that we could see that no, Letterman did not do the “pretend to eat a potato chip from a potato chip collector’s collection” routine before Carson.

Therefore, the legend is…

STATUS: False

Thanks a lot, Don!

Everyone, feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

Was The Don Mattingly Sideburns Plot on The Simpsons NOT a Real Life Reference?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Don Mattingly’s sideburns plot on The Simpsons was not actually a reference to a real life incident that happened with the Yankees benching Mattingly over the length of his hair.

In August of 1991, Yankee star first baseman Don Mattingly famously sat a game due to a controversy involving the length of his hair. The Yankees had rather draconian rules in place for how long players’s hair could be, and manager Stump Merrill came to four Yankees and told them they had to cut their hair or they would be benched for a game on August 15. Catcher Matt Nokes did so and so he played. Mattingly refused, and instead sat that game.

He then played the next game with his long hair still on (and received a standing ovation from the fans at Yankee Stadium). He then cut his hair the next day and actually auctioned off the clippings for charity. Mattingly’s main concern was the time frame that they gave him. He later recalled:

“My biggest issue that day was ‘If you don’t get your haircut today, you don’t play,’ and I was at the ballpark. Well, don’t tell me two days ago. If you tell me today, ‘If you don’t have it cut by tomorrow, you won’t play,’ I would have got it cut.”

The next year, Mattingly was one of a group of star baseball players who appeared in a third season episode of “The Simpsons” called “Homer at the Bat,” where Mister Burns brings in a group of professional ringers once the plant’s softball team makes the playoffs. One by one, the players come down with various maladies that leave them off the team (all except the one player who played Homer Simpson’s position, Darryl Strawberry). I just wrote a TV Legend today about how one of the players was not happy about the story that they wrote for him, so the writers changed it.

For Mattingly, he was kicked off of the team after Mister Burns insisted that he cut down his sideburns, even after Mattingly shaved the side of his head, Burns still saw them there.

It’s a funny bit and it appeared a clear cut reference to the incident back in 1991. However, that shockingly is somehow not the case!

Jon Vitti, the producer of the episode, explained to the Associated Press back in 1992, “That script was written and ready to record in July [of 1991]. It was pure coincidence. When those things happened, the first thing we thought was, `Hey, this is great,`Then we thought, `No, it isn`t great. No one is going to believe those things were written before they happened.`”

Mattingly also told Jim Caple, “The weird thing is, everyone thought they wrote it in later but they didn’t.”

I mean, the Yankees’ long hair policy WAS in existence before the famous incident, but it still seems so hard to believe. But since Mattingly really has no reason to lie about it, I’m willing to go with the legend as…

STATUS: True

Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of television. And click here for more legends about the Simpsons.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

Did A Charlie Brown Christmas Drive Aluminum Christmas Trees Out of Business?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: The success of A Charlie Brown Christmas drove aluminum Christmas trees out of business.

Over the years, we’ve pointed out some of the interesting commercial connections to Charles Schulz’ famous anti-commercialism TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas (like how the special came about due to ads for Ford and how there was originally an ad for Coca-Cola in the actual story of the special). Today, we look at an often-repeated legend about how A Charlie Brown Christmas was responsible for driving those symbols of mid-20th Century commercialism, the aluminum Christmas trees, out of business.

Famously, in the special, Linus and Charlie Brown are sent to pick out a Christmas tree for the school pageant. Lucy wants Charlie Brown to “get the biggest aluminum tree you can find — maybe paint it pink.” Charlie Brown, instead, buys a puny half dead tree. The other kids mock him for his choice, but after Linus reads to them from the Bible, the kids change their tune and in the end, through care and attention, they spruce his tree up into a beautiful little Christmas tree. Linus famously notes, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”

Well, according to a number of articles about A Charlie Brown Christmas, but let’s just pick one of the first results that popped up when I searched for this story. From Smosh.com:

It may only have twelve needles and collapse under the weight of a single ornament before the curative properties of Linus’s blanket rescue it, but Charlie Brown’s twig of a tree single-handedly put an end to a horrible new holiday tradition. Starting in the early 60’s—a period not known for the best decorating trends—people were forgoing real Christmas trees for brightly colorful aluminum ones (think a cheerier Festivus with spray paint), as seen in the tree lot in the TV special. But when viewers saw Charlie Brown stand by his little wooden wonder in the face of ridicule and tree’s own fast-impending mortality, they tossed aside their metallic pink decorations and returned to a more natural choice that also involved sweeping up dead needles from the floor every six seconds.

Is that true?
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Did Red Shirts Really Die at a Greater Percentage Than Other Shirts on Star Trek?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: The most dangerous shirt to wear on “Star Trek” was a red shirt.

Quite often, when a television series finds itself in an established place in the overall popular culture, catch phrases and cliches from the series become a part of the national jargon. “Star Trek” is certainly no exception to this, which catch phrases like “Live long and prosper,” “Damn it, Jim, I’m a doctor not a _____,” “Beam me up, Scotty” and others like them long being part of the public collective consciousness. However, what’s interesting about the public collective consciousness is that it doesn’t always remember things correctly. We’ve pointed out in the past that Gracie Allen never actually said, “Good night, Gracie” on the “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show”. Similarly, Mr. T never actually said “I pity the fool” on “The A-Team”. Heck, even within the world of “Star Trek,” Captain Kirk never said the explicit phrase, “Beam me up, Scotty” (although he said things close enough that it’s not a major thing to quibble over). With all this in mind, can you really trust the collective public consciousness on anything? For instance, do red shirts even die the most on “Star Trek”?

That’s the question reader Bob S. wrote in with the other day, telling me that he had read an article online that said that red shirts didn’t actually die the most on “Star Trek” and he wanted to know if that was true or not. Well, Bob (and everyone else), read on for the answer!
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