Well! Where to begin. That Wacky Redhead has been nominated for a Best Timeline Turtledove each year since 2012, always against very stiff competition, and never winning. Although the former has held true this year, the latter - much to my delight - does not! I certainly couldn't have done it without your support, and I can't thank you all enough for your votes.

Could we get another hint?

With regards to the speculation about my next project, although I'd like to emphasize that I may not choose to work on that particular POD - I've long been nurturing a turn of the (20th) century POD of which I've grown inordinately fond - I will say your discussion has actually given me some fun ideas for possible directions in which to take that TL, should I ever write it.

A lot of writers like (or liked - I have no idea if the once-popular fad is still ongoing) to poll the forum for advice on which TL they should pursue next, although I don't believe I'll do so, because most of my other TL ideas are far more conventional. But once I'm done with TWR, I might discuss some of the concepts I'm developing in a bit more detail.

Well done on the Turtledove Brainbin!

This timeline has been such a fun ride!
Thanks, Ogrebear! Thanks for coming along on the ride! :D

Well deserved, Brainbin! Congratulations on yet another Turtledove :)
Thank you, Andrew! This one will go along very nicely with the other two :)

Congratulations, Brainbin! I'd like to think that Lucy herself would be proud of this. :D
You flatter me immensely, The Walkman, thank you! :eek:

First, congrats on the Turtledove, Brainbin.
Thank you, Unknown! :)

Unknown said:
Secondly, I have one question: Is there a Scarsdale Diet in TTL? I only ask because the man who wrote the Scarsdale Diet book, Dr. Herman Tarnower, was shot and killed by Jean Harris, his longtime girlfriend (and she served prison time for it).

Guess who became an advocate for Jean Harris to get leniency? None other than Barbara Walters (and that got Baba Wawa in trouble at ABC, since she was pestering the then-governor of New York, Mario Cuomo (the dad of the current governor, Andrew) over it, IIRC). In fact, when Jean Harris got out of prison, she interviewed Jean Harris (indeed, one of her Investigation Discovery series episodes was based on this case).
A most intriguing question! I've not really covered diet at all ITTL, which is an unfortunate oversight - the 1970s, for example, were the decade when yogurt first came into vogue, and when the drip coffeemaker replaced the (old-style) percolator as the primary method of brewing coffee. Looking at the Scarsdale Diet, I can see if was in many ways similar to the later Atkins Diet, which precipitated the "low-carb" craze of the 2000s. (Remember when low-carb options were on every menu in every chain restaurant?), so I'm willing to say that something like it would emerge ITTL as well. Whether Dr. Tarnower would be the architect of such a diet, whether his relationship with Jean Harris would survive as long as it did IOTL, and whether Harris would kill him as she did IOTL are all variables which make it unlikely that the OTL events would be replicated ITTL. In addition, Baba Wawa enjoys much less political influence ITTL, both within the network (still NBC here) and without. Certainly, she wouldn't have any Democrat wrapped around her little finger, not with her affair with the Republican Senator Brooke being so widely known...
1985-86: The Best-Laid Plans
The Best-Laid Plans (1985-86)

Tonight Show.jpg

Tuesday, September 23, 1985, 11:50 PM EDT

Coming back from commercial, Johnny Carson, the host of The Tonight Show since 1962, was comfortably seated at his desk, cue card in hand, as he prepared to introduce the first guest of three for that night’s episode. He waited for Doc Severinsen’s band to wrap up the number they were playing before he began speaking, addressing the viewing audience.

“My first guest this evening is a television icon, though she’s also worked on the silver screen, in old-time radio, and on the Broadway stage. Audiences around the world have fallen in love with the scatterbrained housewife she played on I Love Lucy ever since the show first started running in 1951, and it hasn’t gone off the air since. Today she is the President and CEO of Desilu, the studio that produced I Love Lucy, along with My Three Sons, The Untouchables, Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, Rock Around the Clock, Three’s Company, Hill Avenue Beat, The Ropers, Neon City Vice…” He chuckled and turned to his sidekick and announcer, Ed McMahon. “Ed, they’ve had so many hit shows, I’ve run out of room on my cue card.”

McMahon guffawed at this. “Ho ho, you are correct, sir!”, he said, in his notoriously superfluous manner.

“Anyway, my point is, chances are you’ve seen and enjoyed a great many shows brought to you by her studio, and she’s here tonight to talk with us about some of their latest projects. Ladies and gentlemen, would you welcome please the lovely Miss Lucille Ball!”

And in walked Ball, through the curtains stage left of Carson’s desk, as the band obligingly played a rendition of the theme from I Love Lucy, which over the years had been bootstrapped into her personal leitmotif, much as “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” had been for Groucho Marx. She kissed first Carson and then McMahon, both of whom had risen to greet her as she entered, before they took their seats.

“You’re looking lovely tonight, Lucy,” Carson said to his guest, after the applause died down. “Still not a grey hair on that pretty little head of yours.”

Ball burst into a shriek of laughter at this - she always had a fresh batch of henna dye applied to her hair whenever she would be making a talk-show appearance. [1] “Not for lack of trying,” she said.

“Well, I’d say you’ve certainly had better luck than me, wouldn’t you?”

“Hey-oh!”, bellowed McMahon, right on cue. Carson’s hair, of course, was mostly white, and had been for years.

“Maybe it something to do with the fact that I used to have brown hair,” Carson said, setting Ball up for the punchline.

She came through. “Hey, me too!”, she exclaimed, setting everyone off into gales of laughter, though none louder or longer than McMahon, who was still laughing when Carson resumed his questioning.

“Well, Lucy, if that laundry list I was just reading is any indication, it seems your studio has been putting out hit TV shows for just about as long as there have been hit TV shows. What’s your secret?”

“No secret,” Ball said. “We just make the shows we want to make, and so far we’ve been very lucky in having them be the kind of shows people want to see.” This typically self-effacing statement was met with appreciative applause. “Thank you, thank you. That reminds me, we always use a live studio audience for all our sitcoms.” As she said this, she gestured to Carson’s own audience. “You can’t get that kind of reaction out of a can.” This time the audience responded more enthusiastically, albeit at the prompting of the flashing “APPLAUSE” sign, and the melodramatic gestures from the show’s director.

Ball saw this and couldn’t help but chuckle. “You see what I mean?”

Carson nodded. “Yes, yes, they’ve always been very good to me.”

“And really,” Ball continued, as if the digression regarding the nature of audience responses hadn’t even happened, “You ask me what my secret is, but what’s your secret? You’ve got longevity, haven’t you been doing this twice as long as Allen and Paar put together by now?”

Carson chuckled at this. “I never keep track of that sort of thing - my agent does it for me.” McMahon guffawed loudly at his not-really-a-joke, although the studio audience – willfully ignorant of the rounds of contract negotiations which had defined network politics at NBC for over a decade, were more muted in their response.

Ball, however, joined in McMahon’s laughter. She read the trade papers, after all.

“So, the new Mission: Impossible show. Why are you making a new one, anyway?”

“That show is our third-best all-time performer in syndication. Now that may not seem so impressive, but number one is I Love Lucy and number two is Star Trek.” More applause, this time spontaneous, from the audience at the mention of those beloved series. She smiled at this; she didn’t need their reaction to confirm what cold, hard data had already proven, but it was always nice to have.

“And of course you brought Star Trek back last year as a Saturday morning cartoon. So why not bring Mission: Impossible back the same way, then?”

“Well I know last time I was here, I talked a bit about how Star Trek was a show about characters and ideas, and how the planets and the aliens and the space battles were just window dressing, right?”

Carson nodded, recalling the most recent of her annual appearances on the show, the previous September.

“With Mission: Impossible, people watched for the action, the stunts, the capers. The thrill is in seeing real people pull all that off. It wouldn’t work as a cartoon the same way Star Trek does.”

“So what’s different about this new show from the original?”

“A lot has changed in the world in the time since the original went off the air. The global political situation is different, the technology is different, even how men and women relate to one another, and among themselves, and work together as a team is different. This new Mission: Impossible show will reflect all that.”

“And are any of the original cast coming back? Hard to imagine the show without Rollin or Cinnamon, say.”

Ball knew a dig when she heard one – and Carson knew as well as anyone in the industry how the contract disputes between the husband-and-wife team who played Rollin and Cinnamon, Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, and Desilu had been fodder for the supermarket tabloids and the trade papers alike in the early-1970s. Indeed, Carson wore an impish grin and lazily perched the side of his face against the palm of his left hand, his elbow propped up on his desk, as he awaited her reply.

Ball didn’t bite. “I can say Peter Graves is coming back as Jim Phelps,” she said, and waited for the applause that came in reaction to this announcement to subside. “As for anyone else from the original IMF team… you’ll all just have to wait and see.”

“And while we’re waiting, of course, we can always watch some of your other shows, like Neon City Vice.” The mere mention of the show drew catcalls and shrieks from the audience.

Ball smiled. “I can see we have some fans in the audience,” she said.

Carson chuckled at this. “Well, yes, and as you can probably tell, it’s very hot stuff. Now, even though you’ve obviously been responsible for a lot of hit shows over the years, all the hype around Neon City Vice is still remarkable.”

“Yes, it is, and we’re thrilled that audiences have embraced it so much. The cast and crew are dedicated to making the best possible shows they can, and it’s been amazing to see their hard work pay off.”

“And I understand that Ricardo Montalban, who plays the gentleman gangster Gutierrez, will be coming back as a regular this year?” More excitement from the audience at the mention of Montalban, riding the high of a seemingly unlikely late-career comeback to become one of the hottest names in Hollywood, despite being retirement age.

“Oh yes, we simply had to bring him back. You know, it’s funny, I’ve known Ricardo since we were both in pictures back in the forties. I was a Ziegfeld girl, he was the ‘Latin lover’, you know the type.”

“And look how far you’ve both come since.”

“Exactly, this is exactly what I was saying to him the other day at the Emmys after-party. I was thrilled when he won, nobody was cheering louder than me.”

“We do have a clip from Neon City Vice featuring the Emmy-winning Ricardo Montalban, now is this a clip from this week’s episode?”

“Yes, this is from the season premiere, which airs this Friday night.”

“All right, so here it is, Ricardo Montalban on Neon City Vice.”


The return of Neon City Vice a much “hotter” show than any of the studio’s other, more established hits at the end of the 1984-85 season was the talk of the town. Desilu hadn’t had as big a hit with younger audiences since Star Trek; the 18-29 demographic adored the show, as did adolescent audiences. This helped to inform the development of their single new offering for the 1985-86 season, the Mission: Impossible revival. The question of who would return to participate in the revival was central to the show’s early development. Carrying on with the last IMF lineup from the show’s final season was right out: all but one of the six regulars from the 1972-73 season were over 50, outside the bedrock 18-49 demographic, and even older in comparison to the young adult and adolescent audiences viewers craved. Although younger audiences watched The Ropers, a show with an exclusively geriatric cast, in quantity (which would seem to refute the claim that younger audiences could not relate to older characters), that show was a lighthearted family sitcom. The levels of strenuous physical activity required of the characters in an action-adventure show like Mission: Impossible were simply prohibitive for older actors; Herb Solow remarked that “everyone watching is just going to be waiting for the moment when somebody breaks a hip”. In addition, several actors made clear that they would not return, most notably the duo of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, who played master-of-disguise Rollin Hand and femme fatale Cinnamon Carter respectively. Landau had moved onto a reasonably successful film career; Bain, sadly, suffered the handicap of being an actress over 50 in Hollywood – the show’s producers probably would not have wanted her to return even if she were interested. Sam Elliott, as Dr. Doug Robert, was hugely unpopular with the show’s fans, and Elliott’s predecessor Peter Lupus, who played the beloved strongman Willy Armitage, was not invited to reprise his role due to the bridges that had been burned in dismissing him in the first place. That only left a select few who might be reasonable prospects for returning.

Ultimately, of the original cast, only Peter Graves (as team leader Jim Phelps) returned as a regular, serving roughly the same role he had held on the original series. However, he seldom went out into the field himself, leaving that to the younger agents whom he had assembled. The plan for the first season was for these agents to be drawn from a large list of rotating, recurring cast members, and for the list to be whittled down after seeing how the various actors gelled with their counterparts, and how producers, executives, and – most importantly audiences would react to them. Essentially, this meant that Graves was in fact the only regular for season 1. The show’s opening titles credited him alone among the cast; other IMF agents for each given episode were listed as “Also Starring” at the beginning of the first act. Other original cast members who returned on a recurring basis were Greg Morris as tech genius Barney Collier, Mark Lenard as The Great Paris [2], and, most controversially, Lynda Day as Dana Lambert, originally the ingenue but now, in turn, serving as a mentor figure to ingenues herself. Day’s character was introduced in the sixth and penultimate season of Mission: Impossible primarily due to fears by executives that the show’s unchallenged sex symbol up to that point, Barbara Bain, was on the wrong side of 40 and would inevitably lose her lustre with audiences. To differentiate Dana from Cinnamon, the former was written as inexperienced and prone to missteps, and often in need of rescuing, whether by Cinnamon or by the other members of the IMF. What tickled creator and showrunner Bruce Geller (who had left the original series by the time her character was introduced) enough to include her in the new series, despite initial misgivings, was her transformation into a mature and hypercompetent senior IMF agent, the product of ample character development in the decade-long interim since she had last been seen. Her role as a mentor figure to younger female IMF agents was very important in that it gave her a golden opportunity to interact with several of the rotating recurring characters, one of whom quickly proved a rising star.

Juliet Landau was cast to fill a very particular need: to pay homage to Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, and to maintain their presence on the show in spirit despite the lack of a physical appearance by either of them. After all, she was their daughter. [3] Indeed, her character combined their respective roles of master of disguise and honey trap. However, she was not explicitly named in-series as the daughter of either character nor of both as Rollin and Cinnamon had not been an item during the original series, and not enough time had passed since then for them to have had a daughter now in her early twenties. [4] Instead, she was said to have a “family history” with the IMF; notably, her last name was never revealed, and since both Rollin and Cinnamon were conspicuously absent from the show, Casey’s most important relationship was with Dana. Landau, who had primarily acted in stage productions before being cast in a recurring role in this new series (with the blessing of her parents), was a revelation; only 20 years old when she made her first appearance, she portrayed her difficult character (an 18-year-old “teen genius” type) with surprising vulnerability and confidence. There would be no doubt that Landau would be invited to return as a regular for the show’s second season, and indeed she was. She wasn’t the only child of an original series regular to turn the trick, either. Philip Morris, who was the son of Greg Morris, and who had grown up on the Desilu lot [5], also played a character on the new series. However, his character, Grant Collier, was explicitly the son of Greg’s character Barney. Grant had followed in the footsteps of his father and was a technical whiz, and this vital skill – coupled with his race in a show which (much like the original series) had relatively few non-white characters made him nearly as indispensable as Casey. He, too, was earmarked for a return as a regular in the 1986-87 season.

The question of what to call this Mission: Impossible spinoff was a hot topic for discussion amongst studio executives and the show’s producers prior to the series premiere – although, ultimately, no subtitle was used (the rationale being that “if the new Twilight Zone revival doesn’t need a subtitle, then neither do we”), several were considered. Perhaps the most notorious was Mission: Impossible: The Next Generation, given that, as noted, multiple recurring cast members were in fact children of the original cast, but several key people, studio head Lucille Ball and creator-showrunner Bruce Geller included, found the subtitle ridiculous, and that no show with such a subtitle could ever be taken seriously; neither could the use of multiple colons in a single title. A counter-suggestion was made to formally drop the colon between Mission and Impossible (as was often done colloquially anyway), but this, too, was flatly rejected (“just because a lot of people do it doesn’t make it right”). The Next Generation subtitle was useful in one respect, which was in providing the fandom an easy way to distinguish between the revival series (which became TNG, for The Next Generation) and the original series, which retronymously became known as TOS. Among the general public, however, the new show remained in the shadow of the 1960s-70s parent series, despite solid ratings.

However, and increasingly, the new Mission: Impossible’s status as an in-house production on the Desilu lot(s) was proving to be the exception, not the rule. Even before The Wall had come down, Desilu had owned more studio space than any other organization in the Greater Los Angeles area. With the former Paramount studio space being added to Desilu Gower’s existing capacity, it came to the attention of many commentators within the industry was Ball was not so much a studio head as she was a feudal landlady; the majority of studio space at all three of the company’s hubs – Cahuenga, Gower-Melrose, and the Forty Acres backlot in Culver City was being rented out to other production companies to produce programming of their own. The Hollywood Reporter archly noted this when they published an article titled “Lucy the Real Estate Mogul” in early 1985.

In many ways, ironically enough, this resembled the situation some two decades earlier, before the studio’s renaissance began with the “House that Paladin Built” era. Before 1966, Desilu’s only in-house production had been the star vehicle The Lucy Show; all other studio space was rented out to independent productions such as The Andy Griffith Show. Even though Desilu had a much more active production schedule in 1985-86, it also had much more studio space available – far too much for Desilu itself to use effectively on its own. Fortunately, and just as had been the case in the 1960s, high-profile prospective tenants came immediately, and Desilu’s canny marketing department decided to turn an apparent weakness excess production capacity into a strength.

The Desilu “brand” – a singular marque of quality and prestige in the field of television production for 35 years would extend to cover not just the shows they produced, but also the studio space in which their shows were produced. As part of new rental agreements and, effective for the 1985-86 season, renewal agreements – Desilu demanded that the filming location for each production be prominently displayed in the show’s end credits to the point of even being given their own “card” in slideshow-style end credits, where appropriate. Desilu produced special logos for each studio space to use for identification. Brandon Tartikoff (who, as VP Production, had no control over the rental of excess studio space, this being the purview of the VP Property Management) saw these logos at a conference meeting and loved them so much he decided to institute them for Desilu’s own productions as well. As the filming locations for a series typically appear toward the end of a credits listing, this had the amusing effect of the famous cursive Desilu logo appearing twice in close succession for its in-house productions. The cards read as follows:

Filmed At
Hollywood, California

Filmed At
Hollywood, California

Filmed At
Forty Acres
Culver City, California

This modernization of studio branding could not be more fortuitously timed, given the burgeoning number of non-Desilu productions filmed at Desilu’s studios, including a couple of very big names indeed…

One of the big stories of the 1985-86 season was the return of two beloved sitcom mainstays to the genre after lengthy absences. Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper, who had played best friends in The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s, both sought new vehicles for themselves in their middle age, hoping that their success would define the 1980s much as Mary Tyler Moore (and its spinoff, Rhoda, which starred Harper) had done for the previous decade. Each of them took different tacks to this approach, however, and each had to escape the shadow cast by their own previous successes.

Mary Tyler Moore sought to return to the sitcom genre in which she had made her name (after a number of abortive attempts to headline variety shows, of all things, some years before) as the female editor-in-chief of a newspaper. The show was called Mary, a name previously used for a short-lived variety show which starred Moore in the late-1970s; Moore was far from the first performer to reuse the name of a previous star vehicle for a new one. [6] Although quite similar superficially to Mary Tyler Moore (which had been set in a television studio), the big change was in Moore’s character: she played a brittle, crusty, and saucy “boss lady” type named Mary Brenner, very different from the sweet and demure Mary Richards (and from Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, for that matter), so convincingly. She applied this persona to great effect as the editor-in-chief of a major Chicago daily, the Chicago Eagle. Her characterization was played up in early promotional material for the show; “America’s sweetheart as you’ve never seen her before”, one frequently-used quote put it. Another was more direct and more hokey at the same time: “She can turn the world off with her snarl.”

Mary was created by the writing partnership of Ken Levine and David Isaacs, who had cut their teeth on Captain Miller and Taxi Drivers before following the Charles Brothers from the latter series over to The Patriot. The central relationship of Mary and the conflict that propelled was between Mary and her ex-husband, Frank DeMarco, who also worked at the paper; in fact, she was his boss. [7] The pilot episode entailed her hiring to hire him at the insistence of the publisher; he had walked from the rival Chicago Post over a pay dispute. He had been the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning star reporter and acted accordingly, alienating his bosses, but the publisher of the Eagle desperately wanted to attract a reporter of his calibre and reputation, and was willing to meet his steep salary demands.

Levine and Isaacs rebuffed attempts at stunt-casting the ex-husband – Dick van Dyke and Ed Asner had both been (only half-jokingly) floated for the part and endeavoured to undertake a search for Mary’s perfect sparring partner with the same care and attention that had resulted in Dave and Rebecca on The Patriot. Ultimately, John Astin, who had played Gomez Addams on The Addams Family in the 1960s, was cast in the role – their antagonistic chemistry was too appealing to pass over, even though their romantic chemistry left much to be desired – test audiences found it hard to believe the two had ever been in love in the first place, to which Levine mused that “they’ve obviously never been divorced”. Although initial plans were for a “will-they-or-won’t-they” attitude toward a potential reconciliation between them, much in the vein of several classic films from the Golden Age of Hollywood [8], these were ultimately abandoned; Levine and Isaacs had worked on several shows whose writers had wanted to break up their characters but were forced not to by higher-ups due to their popularity with audiences. The example of Rhoda had been stuck in the craw of many a writer long before The Patriot had confirmed that what audiences wanted were more important than what creators wanted, at least as far as the networks and studios were concerned. As a result, Moore and Astin played a divorced couple who would be forced to work together, but could never rekindle their romance – and that was that.

Given that both Moore and Astin were over 50, most of the rest of the cast were younger, and given their star power, consisted primarily of unknowns cast for their talent and attractiveness over any name recognition. Among the show’s biggest discoveries among its younger players was a former backup singer named Katey Sagal (also the daughter of director Boris Sagal), playing Mary’s sassy, chain-smoking secretary. Anyone older – including Burgess Meredith as the publisher of the Eagle, who had a memorable cameo in the pilot was kept to a recurring role.

Mary was critically acclaimed, the show praised for subverting Moore’s (and, to a lesser extent, Astin’s) image, and for depicting a antagonistic relationship between a man and a woman which did not involve any unresolved sexual tension. Audiences enjoyed the show as well, and it finished just within the Top 30 for the season. However, much as had been the case with Mary Tyler Moore in the 1970s, the show enjoyed far greater critical acclaim than it did popular appeal. It was a “smart” show, and it made people feel good to watch it – or to say they watched it.

Just as her one-time co-star had done, Valerie Harper decided to play off her previous project (in her case, Rhoda which had ended with her character married with a daughter named Mary) to star in a family sitcom quite unlike it in many respects. Both Harper and Moore (each of whom served as executive producers on their own shows) claimed that it was coincidence that they both just happened to be coming out with new projects in the same season, and were filming at the same studio. (“In our defence, it’s very hard not to film at Desilu,” Mary Tyler Moore joked in an interview for the Hollywood Reporter. “I think by now they must have bought up all the studio space here in the Southland.”) Because Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda had ended up very different from each other (despite starting out with an identical template – a single woman trying to make it in a new city [9]), their new shows, which were plays on their previous projects, were also very different from each other.

In a transparent attempt to be topical in the proud tradition of socially-aware 1970s sitcoms, Valerie (whose lead actress played a character named Valerie, both in an attempt to ape Mary Tyler Moore and to follow the Vivian Vance paradigm of using her own name after over a decade of incessantly being addressed in public by the name of her famous character) cast Harper as the breadwinner of her household, juggling her working life with her family life. Her husband (or “househusband”, as the show called him), was a struggling writer who worked from home. Harper’s character was an advertising executive, allowing for much of the comedy to come from her attempts to tailor and sell ad campaigns to a revolving door of guest characters. A career in advertising was nothing new for sitcom protagonists; Darrin on Bewitched had been an advertising executive, and Valerie would occasionally homage this nostalgic connection.

The supporting players at Valerie’s workplace were few and far between, as the nature of her job allowed her to interact with clients one-on-one. They included her boss – who was friendly and supportive, in a deliberate contrast to the irascible Lou Grant character on Mary Tyler Moore indeed, if anything, the character could have been said to be overtly milquetoast; this allowed Valerie’s (seldom-seen) co-workers to get away with taking advantage of him, though not Valerie, as she was the firm’s top salesperson.

The only other female regular on the show was the boss’s secretary – who also happened to live down the street from Valerie; the two carpooled to and from work together each day. (Valerie drove.) A busybody neighbour and secretary in the tradition of both types, she was played by character actress Edie McClurg, who spoke with a distinctive Upper Midwestern accent, donchaknow. [10] Valerie and her husband had three sons, to run the gamut of kid-oriented storylines between them: a boy in his early teens (intended as a Tiger Beat heartthrob in the making, albeit in a non-threatening way so as to avoid alienating young male viewers) [11], a boy just entering grade school (and the middle child), and a toddler (played by twins, so as to share the workload between them). [12] In fact, the pilot focused on the main thrust of the series, Valerie’s struggle between her work life and her family life. Her maternity leave had ended on her 40th birthday [13], and upon returning to work, Valerie discovered that the place had fallen into a mess without her. As she struggled to get a handle on her new situation and try to re-assert control over her hectic surroundings, it soon became clear that the main problem she was facing was that access to the boss was barred by the secretary. Although she attempted to get her way with the “soft touch”, attempting to trust in the boss to take care of things himself, the mounting chaos at the workplace soon became too much for her to bear, and she finally decided to take charge and brute-force her way into the boss’s office. All was well that ended well, fortunately, with the boss even thanking her and praising her “initiative”. However, one final bit of comedy was saved for the end of the workplace sequence: as Valerie sat silently in her car in the office garage, in a moment of exhausted reflection, her reverie was shaken by a firm and insistent rapping upon the passenger door window.

“Yoo-hoo! Valerie!” It was none other than the secretary, Patty Poole.

Valerie pushed the button to unlock the power door, letting her in. “Come on in, Patty.”

“Why thank you, Valerie,” said Patty, in her chipper Midwestern accent. “Oh, and I hope you don’t mind what I did earlier. I was under very strict orders, donchaknow.”

“Well, I forgive you, as long as you forgive me shoving you aside like that,” Valerie replied, allowing a wry smile to cross her face.

Patty just snickered. “Oh, don’t mention it. After all…”

And together, as Valerie turned the ignition and the car drove out of the parking garage, the two said in unison, Patty in her chipper tone and Valerie in a resigned one: “It was just business.”

On the home front, all three kids were played by age-appropriate actors: the eldest son, David, by Scott Morton, born in late 1970 (he turned 14 while shooting the pilot); middle son William by Ryan Hickson, born in 1977; and the youngest son Mark by Brian and Brandon Valentine, born on January 1, 1984 (a Sunday), and already famous for being the first “New Year’s Twins” in the history of their hometown. The age-appropriate casting was done for two reasons. Authenticity was one of them, of course, but the other seemed counter-intuitive at first blush: because all the children were played by child actors, the hours they could spend on-set were strictly limited, and this meant that their on-camera time was limited as well. Only Scott Morton was old enough to carry the A-plot of a given episode, though more often than not, even his storylines were relegated to subplots in the early going. Valerie Harper was the show’s star, and that fact was made plain on set on a daily basis. The husband was played by Lowell Wolfe, formerly a soap opera actor (who had enjoyed a long run on Another World in the 1970s) whose reputation as hunky beefcake eye-candy was fading as he aged.

Critics were lukewarm – at best toward Valerie. Though most of them praised the cast, they considered the jokes hoary and saccharine, and the storylines sophomoric. Many disliked the marked lack of chemistry between Valerie and her onscreen husband, a striking contrast to Rhoda, whose title character was passionately in love with her husband, Joe. This lack of chemistry was probably explained by the poor working relationship between Harper and Wolfe, who grew to resent “wearing a goofy print apron and carrying a plate of cookies, asking everyone about their problems”. [14]

For obvious reasons, the show with which Valerie was most frequently compared was Mary, against which it was found lacking in virtually every conceivable metric. Despite this, most critics praised the pilot for Valerie even over that of Mary, with more than one describing it as “the best pilot of the season”. It was the transition to series which proved hobbling to its quality – but not to its popularity: Valerie was a smash-hit, finishing in the Top 5 for the 1985-86 season, the highest-rated sitcom that year. Harper had always been beloved by audiences, who had tuned into Rhoda in droves, and were thrilled to see her back on the tube. And just as producers had predicted, Scott Morton became a major teen sensation, with pinups of his smouldering gaze adorning the pages of Tiger Beat, Seventeen, and all the other teen magazines of the day. This did little to endear him to his TV “father”, a one-time regular on the pin-up circuit himself, which further added to the antipathy between the various cast members. As sure as Morton featured in nearly every new issue of a teen magazine, backstage stories about tensions on the set of Valerie would feature in one of the supermarket tabloids.

The 38th Primetime Emmy Awards were scheduled to be broadcast on September 21, 1986 (a Sunday). [15] Most of the buzz leading into the awards ceremony focused on the “head-to-head” between Mary Tyler Moore and her show Mary (which had scored the most nominations of any comedy series at that year’s ceremony) and Valerie Harper and her show Valerie the two shows were nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series (alongside Desilu mainstays The Patriot, The Ropers, and the life-after-divorce sitcom Starting Over), and the two actresses were nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series against each other. Both actresses refused to play into media speculation of a “feud” between them, pointing out that they had been nominated against each other before, as recently as 1977, and were all smiles and hugs on the talk-show circuit leading up to the ceremony. Besides, as it turned out, their “feud”, and the event in general, were completely blindsided by a shocking revelation from one of the television industry’s most beloved and iconic figures, which would culminate in a revealing tell-all interview special to be aired the night before the Emmy ceremony…


[1] A key difference from OTL, where she did let her hair return to its natural brown and allowed herself to be seen in public as a brunette, as in this 1975 interview with Dinah Shore (also, many believe, the source of the infamous “Vivian Vance was contractually obligated to put on 20 pounds” rumour, from the “contract” gag gift featured in the clip). Ironically, in her role as chief ambassador of Desilu to the media, she has to be “on” a lot more than she would as an actress.

[2] ITTL, Mark Lenard was originally floated as a replacement for Martin Landau in 1969, as contract negotiations wore on (Leonard Nimoy, who replaced him IOTL, was obviously unavailable). Although ultimately Landau did renew his contract, he sought (and received) a concession to be granted leave from several episodes in order to focus on other projects. Therefore, Lenard’s character found use as a substitute for Rollin whenever Landau was absent, leading to Lenard making multiple appearances in each of the show’s last four seasons. (Herb Solow, whose favouritism for Star Trek was well-known on the Desilu lot, would always “pull rank” whenever there was a conflict between his role as Sarek on Star Trek and his role as Paris on Mission: Impossible.)

[3] Juliet Landau, born in 1965 and thus before the POD, is the younger of Landau’s and Bain’s two children, and IOTL followed them into acting (after having been a ballerina in her youth).

[4] During the Rollin/Cinnamon years IOTL, there were occasional winks at the audience that yes, these two are married in real life, and isn’t that funny?, but nothing beyond that. This continued throughout the show’s run ITTL, but all parties involved decided that there should be nothing more serious between Rollin and Cinnamon than the occasional light flirtation (borrowing from the James Bond films, in which Bond and Moneypenny are always flirting with each other but never actually sleep together).

[5] Philip (or Phil) Morris, who also played Barney’s son in the OTL Mission: Impossible revival, did indeed grow up on the Desilu/Paramount lot. As a boy, he had played one of the “onlies” in the first-season Star Trek episode “Miri” (IOTL and ITTL), alongside many of the children of Star Trek cast members. IOTL, Morris would also have additional roles in subsequent Star Trek productions, but would become best-known for his recurring role as the Johnny Cochran parody character, Jackie Chiles, on Seinfeld.

[6] As per OTL: Mary was the title of both a 1970s variety series and a 1980s sitcom, neither of which lasted for more than one season. Among those who have starred in multiple star vehicles with the exact same name, ITTL and IOTL, was Bob Newhart, who appeared in two different series called The Bob Newhart Show: a 1960s variety show and a 1970s sitcom.

[7] This was the original plan for Mary IOTL, but CBS executives rejected this premise (just as they had rejected the idea of Mary Richards being a divorcee – they were apparently very incredulous about making changes to her public image, which is especially surprising after Ordinary People). Ironically, ITTL, there is no Ordinary People, and thus Mary Tyler Moore proving her mettle as a brittle, cold-hearted shrew (she plays Mary similarly to how she played Beth Jarrett, albeit softer, since this is a weekly series) is a huge revelation. Co-creator Ken Levine has spoken at length about his involvement with Mary on his blog, recounting the change in premise among other anecdotes. Astin was ultimately involved with the series IOTL as well, though he played what Wikipedia described as “a condescending theatre critic” named Ed LaSalle; having seen snippets from the pilot, this editor can report that he’s basically the show’s take on a Ted Baxter type.

[8] IOTL, there is a term to describe the types of films being mentioned here, which is comedy of remarriage; however, this was coined IOTL by philosopher Stanley Cavell in his 1981 book, Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage.

[9] Yes, yes, technically, Rhoda Morgenstern was returning to New York City, but you shouldn’t let that needle you.

[10] Oh, you betcha, ya!

[11] Maclean’s entertainment editor Jamie Weinman, in his delightful article on the history of this show’s OTL equivalent, Valerie/Valerie’s Family: The Hogans/The Hogan Family (which I urge you all to read if you’re at all interested in the politics of 1980s television), describes the casting of that show’s oldest son (played by Jason Bateman) to fit these parameters as “the Michael J. Fox” template. So it’s someone like Michael J. Fox (but not him; he’s too old and too short) or Jason Bateman (but not him; he was born after the POD).

[12] Twins (or triplets!) playing babies was and is a common tactic in television and film as to avoid running afoul of child labour laws. IOTL, perhaps the most famous example was Full House, which cast twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen (billed for the first seven seasons as “Mary-Kate Ashley Olsen”, as if they were one person) as youngest daughter Michelle, a baby at the time of the series premiere. The Olsen Twins, as they became known, were able to leverage the show into a career as the pre-eminent child stars of their era, always playing twins (or at least two people) in all their subsequent projects.

[13] Valerie Harper was born in 1939, and thus would been 45 when shooting the pilot (and 46 when it went to series). Even at that age it would be possible (if not likely) for her to have had an infant son, but all involved decided to lower her character’s age to 40, for a multitude of reasons. It does not escape anyone’s notice that Harper – playing a character five years younger is by far the most divergent of the cast from the ages of the characters they play. Harper’s co-star Lowell Wolfe was 39 when shooting the pilot, just a year younger than his character and six years younger than Harper.

[14] A paraphrase from a delightful OTL quote by Bess Armstrong, who played the mother on the beloved and acclaimed cult series My So-Called Life, in 1994: “If I end up standing in the doorway with a plate of cookies saying, ‘Honey, do you want to talk about this?’ I'm going to open my veins.” (For the record, she never did – her husband did all the baking.)

[15] Which means you’re never going to find out who won those Emmys, since the ceremony takes place one day after the Baba Wawa interview with That Wacky Redhead. If only, if only…


So ends the final overview update of That Wacky Redhead! I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading about two solid decades of television production at a pace of less than one-quarter of real time! ;) Thanks once again are due to Space Oddity for his thoughts and suggestions with regard to the Mission: Impossible revival, and particularly the casting. And, as always, thanks to e of pi for assisting with the editing, and for egging me on to write in general. (For those of you wondering where the customary summary of ratings-by-network is, you’ll find it in the next update this time around.)

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Good start to the grand finale! Would love to know more about Kubrick's 1984, especially the filming locations.
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Another fantastic update, although each one grows increasingly bittersweet as we move towards the end of TWR. Footnote 15 does not help in this regard, you know!
Great to see this up! One thing that really interested me about this post in its creation was Desilu outgrowing Lucy, both in terms of her role and in pure physical terms. Lucy's era at the studio has almost passed...
Great post, the new Mission: Impossible and the sitcoms sound fun (even Valerie doesn't sound like it's exactly bad, just unambitious. Mind you, I've never seen the OTL version).

On another subject entirely, a recent Twitter discussion of terrible Star Trek comics showed me some quite appalling stuff, and I'd like to ask for assurance that, even if you aren't writing a utopia, there's enough quality control on "secondary market" comics (if they even exist) to ensure TTL doesn't have things like this authentically American dialogue:

And at least provided the artists with basic descriptions of the characters, if not reference photos:


(Sources: Kirk going off his nut is from Joe 90, which also occasionally referred to "Captain Kurt"; African-American Sulu and Blonde Uhura [TTL's "Frieda"?] are from "A Mirror of Futility"/"The Time Stealer" book and record set.)
Thank you all for your replies to my latest update! It was a lot of fun sketching out these alternate versions of shows which, yes, all have OTL counterparts! Fun fact: of those three shows, only Valerie lasted more than two seasons, although it was massively retooled for season three after Valerie Harper was released from her contract (whereupon it eventually became The Hogan Family, the umbrella title now used for the entirety of the series in syndication). I can't say what fate will befall them ITTL, alas, but I like to think that at least the Mission: Impossible revival will enjoy a long and healthy run, becoming remembered as one of the major action-adventure series of the 1980s, and hopefully butterfly away a certain odious betrayal of a film adaptation that followed IOTL.

(Which also changed the theme song from 5/4 time to common time, which is very nearly as unforgivable.)

Good start to the grand finale!
Thank you!

Would love to know more about Kubrick's 1984, especially the filming locations.
Much of the filming was done in the studio - specifically, Pinewood Studios. Some location shooting was done as well (ITTL, his experience filming Napoleon on the continent conditions him to be less averse to the idea), the most prominent location of which was the University of East Anglia, a campus known for its brutalist architecture. He never left England, though second unit did.

Another fantastic update, although each one grows increasingly bittersweet as we move towards the end of TWR. Footnote 15 does not help in this regard, you know!
Thank you, Andrew, and of course you know what they say about all good things...

Great to see this up! One thing that really interested me about this post in its creation was Desilu outgrowing Lucy, both in terms of her role and in pure physical terms. Lucy's era at the studio has almost passed...
We're definitely going to be revisiting this subject in a big way once more before the end of this TL.

Great post, the new Mission: Impossible and the sitcoms sound fun (even Valerie doesn't sound like it's exactly bad, just unambitious. Mind you, I've never seen the OTL version).
Thank you, Daibhid! :) I like to think of Valerie as very watchable despite its dubious quality, not unlike, say, Full House or Family Matters, its OTL sister series (all produced by Miller-Boyett).

Daibhid C said:
On another subject entirely, a recent Twitter discussion of terrible Star Trek comics showed me some quite appalling stuff, and I'd like to ask for assurance that, even if you aren't writing a utopia, there's enough quality control on "secondary market" comics (if they even exist) to ensure TTL doesn't have things like this authentically American dialogue:

And at least provided the artists with basic descriptions of the characters, if not reference photos:

(Sources: Kirk going off his nut is from Joe 90, which also occasionally referred to "Captain Kurt"; African-American Sulu and Blonde Uhura [TTL's "Frieda"?] are from "A Mirror of Futility"/"The Time Stealer" book and record set.)
(Not quoting the images, because I think we've seen them enough times already ;))

Is it wrong that the thing which I find most jarring in all of that is Spock saying "What's up?" :eek: Although Black Sulu (should we call him "Zulu"? :p) is pretty funny, especially since I don't think anybody in the show ever looked like that. The prominent black male characters who come to mind - Lt. Boma from "The Galileo Seven", Commodore Stone from "Court Martial", Dr. Daystrom from "The Ultimate Computer", and of course Dr. M'Benga - none of them resemble "Zulu", whereas at least "Frieda" looks like Lt. Palmer, who actually was the relief Communications officer on the show (so it's at least easy to imagine someone catching "The Doomsday Machine" or "The Way to Eden" and simply assuming that's Uhura sitting at her usual position).


And now to make a very special public service announcement to all my readers, active posters and lurkers alike. Some of you may be aware of Star Trek Continues, a fan-film series which I have mentioned (and praised) on this thread before. At the moment, their third round of crowdfunding is currently in progress on Indiegogo. Although I have my reservations with regards to certain aspects of the production (nobody's perfect, after all), I feel that on the whole, the cast and crew have done a remarkable job capturing the spirit of the original Star Trek series, and that we are unlikely to encounter better for a very long time. (Maybe once the copyrights finally expire, but who knows how long that will take.) If you are a fan of Star Trek (as I would I imagine that most of you are), I would strongly recommend that you watch the series (particularly the episodes "Lolani", "Fairest of Them All", and "Divided We Stand"), and if you enjoy it, I urge you to consider supporting them, if at all possible.

For the record, I am not in any way involved with the making of the series, nor have I ever had any contact with anyone involved in making it (unless, of course, any of them are posters here who have not divulged their real-world identities). This plug was done solely in my capacity as a fan of the production, and because this is by far my largest possible platform to bring attention to it.
And apart from Boston City Hall, where else did the second unit go? And by the way, Kubrick may have shot scenes at Foster's Sainsbury Centre on the campus and built an outdoor set at Pinewood.
Hearing that we'll never learn who wins the Oscars at this point hurts so much. This TL is one of the best I've read...shame it has to end sometime. At least we can enjoy it for a little while longer. :)

Oh, also: I'd like to know how my favorite 70's (and early 80's) star Burt Reynolds is doing ITTL. Does Deliverance still exist? Or Smokey and the Bandit? I'm guessing no on the latter, unfortunately...
Oh, also: I'd like to know how my favorite 70's (and early 80's) star Burt Reynolds is doing ITTL. Does Deliverance still exist? Or Smokey and the Bandit? I'm guessing no on the latter, unfortunately...
I too, would like to hear to about how Burt Reynolds is fairing ITTL.
{Why wouldn't Smokey and the Bandit exist ITTL?! :eek: :( Oh well, if he's said it once, he's said it a thousand times: he's not writing a Utopia.}
What's wrong with that, just that it's too British a phrase for Kirk to use?

Too British and too slangy. Several people on Twitter commented that it sounded like EastEnders rather than Star Trek. (One of the great things about British Adventure Comics of the Sixties was that they were aware of how the target audience actually spoke; this would seem to be an example of that going horribly wrong.)
Hearing that we'll never learn who wins the Oscars at this point hurts so much. This TL is one of the best I've read...shame it has to end sometime. At least we can enjoy it for a little while longer. :)

Oh, also: I'd like to know how my favorite 70's (and early 80's) star Burt Reynolds is doing ITTL. Does Deliverance still exist? Or Smokey and the Bandit? I'm guessing no on the latter, unfortunately...

Smokey and the Bandit was mentioned before. I can't remember where.

Edit: Here it is. Ed O'Neill was in it: https://www.alternatehistory.com/discussion/showpost.php?p=8964238&postcount=3657
The Power of Networking
The Power of Networking

The paradigm of three – and only three – commercial broadcast networks may have seemed eternal and unchanging by the mid-1980s, but it had surprisingly not always been the case. Intermittent discussions and even abortive attempts to launch a “fourth network” would have, in fact, marked a return to the way things had been during the Golden Age of Television – when, in addition to ABC, NBC, and CBS, there was also the DuMont Television Network, which endured (in one form or another) for a decade from 1946 to 1956, straddling the line between the Experimental and Classic Eras of television history. The network represented an attempt by the television equipment manufacturer DuMont Laboratories (founded by Allen B. DuMont) to provide the means to make use of the new technologies it was developing, not unlike what Thomas Edison had done in the 1890s. The network enjoyed its greatest success in the early-1950s, having one of the young medium’s biggest stars, Jackie Gleason, on their roster; it was on DuMont that the first Honeymooners sketches debuted in 1951. However, just as they had done with NBC’s radio talent a few years before, CBS poached Gleason in 1952, marking the beginning of the end for the network. Only his starpower might have been able to counter the myriad financial and economic challenges facing the DuMont Network going forward.

From the outset, DuMont was faced with considerable institutional hurdles which none of its three rivals had been forced to clear, giving it an unfair disadvantage against them. Unlike ABC, NBC, or CBS, DuMont had no established radio infrastructure from which to draw talent or adaptable material, nor against which they could balance their inevitable losses from capital investment during their formative years in the new medium of television. In fact, of the original four television networks, DuMont was the only one which had been explicitly created for the new medium, rather than simply one which expanded operations from an established radio network. [1] As a result, DuMont needed a partner who could bankroll the network’s expansion and fund its programming. They would ultimately find one in Paramount Pictures, which since 1939 had held a 40% stake in DuMont Laboratories.

However, Paramount, being one of the major Hollywood film studios, naturally saw television as an existential threat, and one which should be thwarted, not embraced. Although most of the film studios did eventually come to embrace the new medium and started new divisions explicitly for the purpose of producing television programming, Paramount was notoriously slow to follow suit. Paramount Television would not come into existence until 1968, shortly after the Gulf+Western conglomerate had purchased the studio (and only after they had, in turn, failed to complete the acquisition of an existing television studio, Desilu Productions, to absorb into Paramount). This stubborn refusal to change with the times very much informed the tenor of Paramount’s relationship with DuMont.

As it happened, DuMont’s leadership had just about the exact opposite attitude to their backers at Paramount; being the only network formed for the explicit purpose of television broadcasting, and being owned by a firm which had pioneered the development of technology for the nascent medium, it was the only one of the four networks whose brass consisted of true believers (as opposed to opportunists), and thus what it lacked in most everything else, it made up for in entrepreneurship. The DuMont Network thus attracted talent who made up for their inexperience with their innovative potential. Jackie Gleason had been the network’s biggest star, and their failure to hold onto him was likely fatal, but by no means was he the only bright light at DuMont. The first true situation comedy on television (before the term “sitcom” itself even came into vogue), Mary Kay and Johnny, began airing on DuMont in 1947, beating I Love Lucy to the punch by almost four years. [2] The first science-fiction series on television, Captain Video, began airing on DuMont in 1949, ultimately airing on that network for six years, one of the network’s longest-running programs. Network television’s first game show, Cash and Carry, was also a DuMont original, dating all the way back to their (and television’s) first season of operations, 1946-47 (at which time the “network” consisted of just two stations). The Reverend Fulton Sheen stunned observers when his religious program Life is Worth Living was able to hold its own against early television’s biggest star, Milton Berle. One of DuMont’s biggest ratings bonanzas during their heyday, however (aside from Gleason’s Cavalcade of Stars), was their live coverage of boxing and professional wrestling events.

DuMont, despite their early start, was unable to keep pace with the rapid expansion of the other networks starting in the late-1940s. Television stations had to apply for licences from the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, before they could commence broadcasting, and most licences were, naturally, granted to owners who already operated radio stations in the same market, for obvious reasons: existing relations and contacts with the FCC; experience and expertise with broadcasting technology; the physical assets necessary to transmit broadcast signals to a wide audience; and, most importantly, a pre-existing affiliation with one of the four radio networks. As a result, most of those stations which came into existence before 1948 chose to affiliate with NBC or CBS, the two major radio networks which had expanded into television. DuMont, and to a lesser extent ABC, was left by the wayside. Perhaps this obstacle might have been surmountable in the long run, as additional stations came into operation; however, applications for new licences came in faster than the FCC could process them [3], and the agency ultimately decided to put a temporary freeze on granting any new ones. This freeze, which was originally to last for only a few months, instead endured for almost four years, well into the 1950s and long enough for the backbone of television infrastructure to well and truly ossify.

In the height of the antitrust hysteria of the era (which had resulted in the Paramount Decision of 1948, ending vertical integration in the motion picture industry), the FCC had ruled that no firm or individual could own more than five television stations nationwide. Paramount’s 40% stake in DuMont would prove another stumbling block when the FCC ruled that the two television stations owned by the Paramount Television Network – a short-lived parallel venture by Paramount to establish their own broadcast network independent of DuMont’s own efforts, born of the same fleeting mentality which had resulted in investment into DuMont in the first place – nevertheless counted towards their tally of five owned-and-operated, or O&O, stations, even though the Paramount stations aired no DuMont programming. This left the three core DuMont O&Os which formed the core of their network: WABD in New York City, hub of the early television industry; WTTG in Washington, D.C., which also served nearby Baltimore; and WDTV in Pittsburgh, which emerged as the crown jewel of the network, as no other VHF stations would serve what was then the sixth-largest market in the United States for the duration of DuMont’s operations as a network. It alone kept DuMont afloat during the lean years of the “freeze”, though ironically the network was forced to sell its most valuable asset to Westinghouse in 1954, desperate for a cash infusion. This short-term gain was in all likelihood the death knell for DuMont as a television network.

In the intervening years, though many other stations would affiliate with DuMont in some capacity, they were free to pick and choose which DuMont programming to carry; in addition, after the FCC freeze was finally lifted in 1952, it became nearly impossible to receive a new licence in the very-high frequency, or VHF, band of channels; instead, the ultra-high frequency, or UHF, band of channels was opened up for exploitation. However, UHF stations usually gave off weak signals which were poorly received by viewer antennae – if they could be received at all, as tuners which were capable of converting UHF signals to information were not mandatory, and most television manufacturers only included the VHF dial (channels 2-13) on their sets, leaving off the UHF dial (channels 14-83) entirely. This state of affairs would not change until the 1960s, long after DuMont ceased broadcasting.

The final DuMont Network broadcast took place on August 6, 1956, transmitted across only five stations when the other networks all had over 100. From that point forward for the next three decades, viewing audiences in the United States had only three commercial broadcast networks available to watch over-the-air. The common knowledge that there were “only three channels” was always a misnomer, however. From 1964 onward, television sets were required to be manufactured with a UHF tuner and dial, granting viewers access to UHF stations in their market – and many markets had at least one, given the low licensing and operating fees in comparison to VHF stations (albeit at the cost of generally poorer over-the-air reception). After 1971, the public broadcaster PBS was available nationwide, and it operated a cooperative of stations in similar fashion to the commercial broadcast networks, offering high-quality and educational programming without advertising, splitting the costs amongst all the member stations. And finally, from the late-1970s onward, advances in telecommunications technology enabled Pay-TV channels to flourish, available to viewers by cable or satellite transmission. By the mid-1980s, MTV and CNN were household names, and were increasingly coming to define the culture of the Post-Boomer generation, increasingly known as the “Echo Boom”. [4]

Although the DuMont network had ceased operations in 1956, the two remaining DuMont O&O stations did not. DuMont Laboratories spun off their broadcasting operations in 1957 as the DuMont Broadcasting Corporation, though it was renamed Metropolitan Broadcasting shortly thereafter, so as to dissociate itself from the former network. Paramount sold Metropolitan in 1958 to John Kluge, who fancied himself a media mogul, serving in his own way as an inspiration to many who would come after him. He would aggressively expand his new company (renamed once again, to Metromedia) and its media holdings throughout the 1960s, picking up new television stations, radio stations, and other entertainment properties, including (most curiously) the Harlem Globetrotters. Its portfolio grew larger and larger as the years wore on, culminating in the record nine-figure acquisition of a VHF station in Boston, WCVB (channel 5), in the early-1980s. All of these purchases provided Metromedia with a truly impressive portfolio of stations, the vast majority of which had no affiliation with any of the three major networks, but providing invaluable infrastructure for anyone who might be interested in launching a fourth, though ultimately anyone who was interested would inevitably take a different tack to doing so.

Indeed, ever since DuMont went off the air in 1956, there had been intermittent attempts by various entities to launch a replacement fourth network. Even before DuMont officially ceased operations, there had been several attempts in the mid-1950s to launch new networks, none of which were successful. Most ad hoc “networks” which did launch functioned more along the lines of first-run syndication, selling “packages” of programming to stations which may or may not have been affiliated to an actual broadcast network; each station, as was already the case in the more traditional rerun syndication market, could choose to broadcast the shows they had licenced at their own discretion, dramatically reducing the potential effectiveness of nationwide marketing campaigns – exhorting viewers to “check your local listings” was not nearly as effective as giving them the specific date, time, and station on which they could expect to find their programming. Another problem – the very same problem which helped to bring down DuMont – was that each market had a severely limited number of VHF stations, and almost all of these were affiliated to a major network. Any network with the same national reach as the Big Three would have to consist largely of UHF affiliate stations. Many would-be entrepreneurs found the very notion daunting, comparing it to herding cats. Others were intrigued by the challenge.

Foremost among those who felt they might just be able to transcend the lofty barriers to entry facing anyone who sought to develop a fourth network was Barry Diller, a television executive who had worked for ABC in the 1960s, becoming the Vice President of Development before relocating to United Artists Television in 1974. [5] He gradually became convinced that there was room for another network to compete with the Big Three, one with him (naturally) holding the reins as the chief creative force, but unsurprisingly, he could find precious few backers, and hardly any at United Artists Television. The 1970s were not the 1950s; the barriers to entry appeared nigh-insurmountable unless the necessary investments could already be made, or the necessary capacity already existed. After United Artists had been sold by Transamerica to CanWest, Diller would finally find his willing benefactor in the person of Israel Asper, who was not about to let a pesky little thing like an international border get in the way of his dream for a transnational network. Asper already had experience in transnational telecommunications dealings, having bought out a North Dakota station which he then turned into the Winnipeg flagship of his network. This network, with the help of hit programming such as SCTV and Life After Death, was able to compete with its rivals (CBC/Radio-Canada and the CTV/TVA tandem) in most of Canada’s major cities, particularly Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, even after many analysts had written the Global Television Network off as unlikely to find a niche against the two titans of Canadian broadcasting. Global’s success convinced Asper that if four Anglophone networks (CBC-1, CBC-2, CTV, and Global) could work in Canada, then they could also work in the United States. Asper’s other key strength was an established base of operations in the United States. His acquisition of United Artists – and his subsequent political alliance with Canadian Prime Minister Stanfield, resulting in the loosening of CRTC “CanCon” restrictions in the early-1980s (much to the chagrin of cultural protectionists) – provided him with the assets needed to churn out international co-productions on an assembly line basis. Given Canada’s relatively small number of population centres, his Global network reached almost complete market saturation by the mid-1980s, with a particular coup for Global being the launch of the Halifax station, CIHF, in 1984, just in time for the inaugural CFL game played by the Atlantic Schooners, to which the new station had naturally secured the exclusive rights. [6] The last holdout south of the 60th parallel was Saskatchewan, though plans to rectify this had already been set in motion. Eager to fend off salvos from the Canadian cultural and intellectual elite, Asper heavily endowed his alma mater, the University of Manitoba, with the funds needed to greatly expand their schools of business, law, and media studies.

It had been a tradition since the very beginnings of the American mass media industry for Canadians to seek their greatest fame and fortune across the border, and this was no less true for Izzy Asper than it had been for Louis B. Mayer, the Warner Brothers, and Mary Pickford before him. He was clearly entrenched in the Canadian broadcast industry, and his expansion southward into the American motion picture industry, with the acquisition first of United Artists, and then of the trademarks, logos, and insignias pertaining to the former Paramount Pictures Corporation, was in the end a mere prelude to his plans to expand his broadcast operations stateside; United Artists provided his Global Television Network with the content he needed for a competitive edge over his rivals, but in many other respects it functioned as a loss-leader. This was because Asper, despite his deep pockets and his big dreams, was not a creator as Louis B. Mayer or Jack Warner had been, and any plans to create an American network needed a visionary. Luckily for him, Barry Diller was just the right man for the job, and he was available at just the right time.

CanWest, through their previous acquisitions, already owned several television stations in the United States, including a permit to build a station in Houston, and an already-operating station which served the large and lucrative Cleveland market – Asper, in his more ambitious moments, envisioned it functioning as a bulwark to sustain any emerging network against adversity, much as Pittsburgh had been for DuMont in the early-1950s. However, a few scattered stations did not a national network make, and Asper knew he had to enlist additional stations into his scheme. Aware that image means everything in any enterprise, and on the advice of Diller, Asper’s CanWest Global Communications was re-branded, shortly after the acquisition of the Paramount trademarks, to CanWest Paramount Communications. However, the planned network itself was to be named the Paramount Global Television Network, or PGTV. Global Television in Canada began using this new identity on September 1, 1984 (a Saturday).

The television landscape of the 1980s was very different from the one which DuMont had faced in the 1980s. UHF stations were far more accessible over-the-air than they once were; UHF signals were stronger, and just about every television set in a given household could receive them with ease… more to the point, many households in the 1980s did not use traditional “rabbit ears” to receive broadcast signals, instead relying on a cable hookup or satellite connection; cable and satellite providers tended to be local, and thus provided market-specific lists of channels to their customers. These lists would inevitably include every VHF and UHF station serving each particular market. Cable and satellite providing such a large number of viewing options to customers was a double-edged sword: on the one hand, it weakened the monopoly the broadcast networks held over audiences; on the other, it dramatically lowered the barriers to entry for competition, including, at least theoretically, any claimants to the banner of the fabled fourth network. An advantage shared by Asper and Diller were their contacts with the FCC, whose stringent anti-trust regulations over ownership and affiliation had been loosened during the Reagan administration (which had also seen the termination of the Family Viewing Hour and the end of the Fairness Doctrine), and which had been left alone by the Glenn administration. The FCC might have had it in for DuMont, but they were far less antagonistic towards CanWest Paramount. Asper’s good working relationship with both the CRTC and the FCC was the most valuable tool in his arsenal on the quest to secure the broadest possible coverage for his nascent network.

CanWest Paramount made waves when it bought out the long-troubled WOR-TV, an independent station which served the largest media market in North America, New York City, which most insiders assumed was intended to serve as the flagship station of the ad hoc “network” which most of them still considered a pipe-dream. But it turned out that WOR-TV, redesignated WWOR-TV in order to fit the now-standard paradigm for call letters, was merely the appetizer to an altogether more ambitious main course.

In 1985, John Kluge, who had taken Metromedia private some years before, announced that he was selling 51% of its stock to CanWest Paramount, giving the corporation de facto ownership of its portfolio of television and radio stations, and making CanWest Paramount the owner-operator of by far the largest number of television stations in the United States outside of the three broadcast networks. However, even though the old FCC restrictions had been relaxed since the 1950s, they had not been entirely eliminated; the Metromedia acquisitions found CanWest Paramount bumping its head against the hard ceiling of television stations any firm could own; any and all new network stations would have to be traditional affiliates. In fact, CanWest Paramount even sold a small number of their newly-acquired stations, most prominently the former Metromedia station WNEW (itself the former DuMont flagship WABD), which served New York City, as PGTV already had an NYC station in WWOR, and the custom (which was a hard rule in Canada) was that each company should have only one station per market [7], one which Asper and Diller were inclined to follow. As a result, WNEW was sold to an independent buyer, leaving WWOR as the PGTV East Coast flagship station. There were other curious realignments as a result of the merger: the new PGTV station in Boston, previously an ABC affiliate, saw that affiliation transfer to a station in New Hampshire; the Houston station still under permit for construction, already given the call letters KUAB, was effectively abandoned, with those letters transferred to the former KRIV, whose acquisition was deemed by the FCC a fulfilment of that permit.

Asper and Diller then took their show on the road, attempting to woo potential affiliate stations all over the United States, and in this regard they were remarkably successful, securing affiliation agreements in over 150 markets in time for the planned launch of PGTV American broadcast operations on August 6, 1986 (a Wednesday), exactly three decades to the day after the final DuMont Network broadcast, and shortly before commencement of the 1986-87 season. Indeed, in securing an affiliate for the San Diego market, PGTV found itself a tri-national network, when none of the stations (not even the UHF stations) physically located in San Diego would agree to affiliate with PGTV – but XETV, a station located just across the border in Tijuana, Mexico, agreed to join the new network. XETV was a VHF station (channel 6), one of the few which joined PGTV, and which existed specifically because of the late-1940s freeze on new VHF stations imposed by the FCC – which did not affect Mexico. Given the extreme proximity of San Diego to the Mexican border, a VHF transmitter built in Tijuana could be received by television sets across the region; the Azcárraga family, who were prime movers and shakers in the Mexican media industry, took advantage of the opportunity this presented with the launch of XETV in 1953. It affiliated with ABC in 1956, remaining with the Alphabet Network until 1972, when the owners of a local UHF station (KCST, channel 39) were able to persuade them to disaffiliate with a station located in a foreign country and owned by foreign interests. From then until PGTV came calling, XETV was an independent station. Asper, now flush with contacts in a third country, was sufficiently intrigued by the prospect of his PGTV becoming a truly global network that another VHF station licenced to a Mexican city (XHRIO, channel 2, serving Matamoros, Tamaulipas) but serving audiences across the Rio Grande (in the Harlingen-McAllen-Brownsville market in the extreme south of Texas) would also become an affiliate. These would be valuable in future, should Global ever wish to expand into Spanish-language broadcasting, but for the time being most Mexican viewers of PGTV would be the affluent elite of the country, who encouraged the “Americanization” of their children. Many Mexican Pay-TV providers offered XETV and XHRIO to their customers for this very purpose. As regarded the PGTV base of operations in Canada, their stations in Saskatchewan commenced broadcasting on August 6, 1986, giving them coverage in every population centre in the Great White North.

The first programming to be broadcast (inter-)nationwide on PGTV was a late-night talk show, a competitor to the predominant Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, late into the evening of August 6, 1986; exactly thirty years after the last DuMont Network broadcast. [8] However, it was very much a product of the 1980s, much more “modern” and “hip” than his more staid, traditional format. The program was called The Late Show with David Letterman; Letterman, who had started his television career as a weatherman for the Indianapolis station WLWI, eventually moved to Los Angeles, seeking his fortunes as a comedy writer, where he met with some success. Inevitably, his on-air experience resulted in a performing career as well, and it was in this capacity that he was invited as a guest on The Tonight Show in 1978. He immediately struck up a rapport with Johnny Carson, who took Letterman under his wing. Letterman eventually became a writer, and then a “guest host”, for the show; he was so successful that he became the show’s first “permanent guest host” (a designation which Letterman himself called “the greatest oxymoron in show business”, a nickname which he eventually extended to himself in typical self-deprecating fashion) in the early-1980s. [9] However, he soon tired of filling in for Carson and chafing under his mentor’s somewhat ossified format, always being rebuffed by staunchly traditionalist showrunner Fred de Cordova whenever he suggested more innovative or avant-garde sketches. NBC brass also made it clear that they considered Carson far more valuable than Letterman, taking a hard line in their annual contract renegotiations with the latter. Letterman stayed on partly in his belief that Carson might soon retire; he had already hosted The Tonight Show for twice as long as all of his predecessors combined upon his twentieth anniversary with the program in 1982. Industry insiders believed that Carson would soon tire of his disputes and compromises with NBC, and choose to retire on a high note on his twenty-fifth anniversary in 1987. When Carson signed a multi-year contract renewal in 1985, however, it became clear that this would not be the case. Letterman also signed on for one more year in 1985, but he knew that at the next stop, he would have to be getting off.

By 1985, Letterman had become one of the notoriously antisocial Carson’s few close friends, and he knew that he would have to receive his mentor’s blessing lest his decision to depart for sunnier pastures be perceived as anything other than a personal betrayal. To this end, the two spoke at length on the subject, including shortly before Letterman signed a contract with PGTV, who had heard through the industry grapevine about his troubles with The Tonight Show and were willing to pay him handsomely to become the anchor of their fledgling network’s late-night lineup, offering him complete creative control without a pesky de Cordova to interfere with his comedic vision, such as it was. Carson encouraged his protégé to seek his own fortune at PGTV, wishing him luck, but suspecting that he would do no better than his perennial also-ran rivals, Merv Griffin and Dick Cavett; Cavett had been cancelled by ABC (which had given up on late-night talk shows altogether, instead proffering a late-night news program, Nightline), and Griffin, who remained on CBS, ultimately would choose to announce his retirement in 1987, which was also the 25th anniversary of his talk show, the following year. [10]

Letterman had wanted to host The Late Show in New York City, but the only studio space available to PGTV in 1986 was the WWOR-TV facility in suburban Secaucus, New Jersey. Thus, Letterman reluctantly agreed to remain in Los Angeles, where his show would broadcast from a studio in the former Metromedia Square (renamed the Paramount Global Television Center with much fanfare) on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, as opposed to Carson’s Tonight Show, which famously broadcast from “Beautiful Downtown Burbank”, in the San Fernando Valley. True to form, Letterman’s talk show was noted for its unusual sketches, which often lacked traditional punchlines, focusing more on “anti-humour” or experimentation to see what reaction certain stunts would provoke from unsuspecting patsies. Letterman’s joke-telling style, muted and muzzled back when he was forced to recite monologues mostly written by Carson’s staff (though audiences had grown accustomed to his bizarre non-sequiturs and ad libs whenever a joke would bomb), flourished on The Late Show. Though Letterman was nearly 40 in 1986 (about the same age Carson had been when he began hosting The Tonight Show at age 37 in 1962), he appealed to younger audiences, disaffected with the more conventional humour often featured on the Tonight Show. Letterman was also a far less congenial interviewer than Carson, often mocking or belittling his guests (albeit usually with veiled asides and double entendres rather than direct insults), even if they were celebrities plugging their latest projects. His show lacked the Ed McMahon-style “sidekick”, with his bandleader adopting aspects of that role (primarily in bantering with the host). Letterman’s show came strong out of the gate, with the series premiere beating The Tonight Show in the ratings. It would ultimately settle below Tonight as the weeks wore on (as always seemed to be the case), but it remained well above Merv Griffin, and performed almost neck-in-neck with Tonight among younger audiences and other key viewer demographics. Thus, PGTV would commence the 1986-87 season with a proven hit already on their schedule.

Nevertheless, the climate which the Paramount Global Television Network faced upon formal expansion into the United States for the 1986-87 season was one in which the Big Three networks remained incredibly dominant, as they had always done. In the preceding 1985-86 season, the ABC series Neon City Vice finished at #1, the first Desilu production to top the ratings charts since Rock Around the Clock in 1977-78, knocking the previous champion Wasps to #2 – another primetime soap and one-time ratings king, Texas, also finished in the Top 5. On the whole, however, it appeared that the genre (which had so dominated television in the early-1980s) was finally beginning to decline; notably, PGTV would include no primetime soaps in its inaugural primetime lineup, though granted this may have been more out of concern for their great expense. Desilu dominated the Top 10, with not only Neon City Vice but also The Patriot and The Ropers making the cut; however, both Hill Avenue Beat and Eunice fell out of the Top 30, and were likely to face cancellation after the 1986-87 season, especially once PGTV began to cannibalize their potential viewer base. Until then, ABC, with 14 shows in the Top 30, continued to dominate. NBC, with ten shows, remained in second but was well ahead of CBS, which maintained the previous season’s standing of six entries in the Top 30.

In many ways, it seemed fitting for Lucille Ball to retire from Desilu in this climate, an era when the medium was undergoing a fundamental realignment the likes of which had not been seen since the Golden Age in which she had made her start. Increasing experimentation within the medium, and new opportunities presenting themselves regularly, had resulted in the old order seemed increasingly fragile and dated. With the establishment of PGTV, the first true commercial network to join the ranks of the “Big Three” since DuMont went off the air three decades before, the United States of America finally had its fourth network… again. The greatest irony of all was that it all seemed something of an anticlimax. In the 1950s, there had only been the four networks. In the 1980s, there were plenty of other channels available to viewers, and even other uses for the physical television set beyond receiving broadcast, cable, or satellite signals, what with home video and video games. Nevertheless, this new development provided a curious bookend to the television career of the most influential woman ever to grace the medium…


[1] The four old-time radio networks were (in order of creation): NBC (1926), CBS (1928), Mutual (1934), and ABC (1943, though originally formed as the “NBC Blue” network in 1927, before an FCC ruling forced RCA to sell one of their two networks during the War). Although Mutual explored the possibility of expanding into television as the other three networks did in the late-1940s, they ultimately never would, due to their structure as a cooperative of network affiliate stations (as opposed to independently-owned and operated affiliate stations sharing a common identity, branding, and programming, as was the case for the other three networks) availing them of less ready capital for rapid growth. Although “old-time radio” as we understand the term today (where scripted, dramatic programming was the dominant means of entertaining listeners) was essentially over by about 1960 (to be replaced with music, which remains dominant to this day, with a few prominent exceptions), all four old-time radio networks continued to exist through the end of this timeline, IOTL and ITTL.

[2] Mary Kay and Johnny premiered on November 18, 1947. Like many early television programs, the show ran for 15 minutes. Being so old and on such a cutting-edge medium (“network television” only existed in a handful of markets in the Northeast at this time, and even by 1949 less than ten percent of households owned a television set), the show did not confirm to several classic sitcom tropes: the stars, real-life married couple Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns, who played themselves (a common conceit in old-time radio sitcoms), shared a bed onscreen; Mary Kay’s character also became the subject of television’s first pregnancy when she herself became pregnant, delivering her son Christopher in December, 1948, again beating That Wacky Redhead and Desi IV by a number of years. However, IOTL, no episodes survive for public dissemination; a handful of the original kinescopes have been archived.

[3] In essence, the main problem was that the VHF band of frequencies needed to be re-defined so as to avoid broadcast signals from different stations interfering with each other. There were (and are), in theory, twelve stations which can operate in the VHF band: channels 2-13. Channel 1, famously missing from the dials of American television sets, was a casualty of the constant shifting in frequency designations during the 1940s. After all, commercial television broadcast signals had to compete for frequencies with commercial radio broadcast signals, alongside a whole host of other broadcast applications for public and private use. As a result, most markets would eventually host only three of the twelve allotted VHF stations. Affiliates of NBC and CBS would invariably occupy two of those three slots, leaving affiliates of ABC and DuMont, alongside independent stations, to compete for their one and only chance to be seen on a VHF station in a given market.

[4] Recall that, initially, the Echo Boom referred only to the spike in birth rates during the 1970-74 period, though it was later conflated with the entire post-Baby Boom generation, the one we refer to IOTL as “Generation X”, lasting from the early-1960s to the early-1980s.

[5] IOTL, of course, Barry Diller left ABC to join Paramount Pictures as Chairman and CEO, however there’s no room for him ITTL, so he goes to United Artists instead.

[6] Among those in attendance at the game is Prime Minister Stanfield himself, and the cameras dwell heavily on his presence. Many, particularly those working for the CBC and CTV/TVA, accuse Stanfield’s government of leaning on the CFL to award broadcast rights for Schooners games to CIHF-TV, and they are correct, though naturally this won’t be proven for some time.

[7] In Canada, the rule is actually one station per language per market, although this rule is only applied de facto to bilingual areas (primarily Montreal). In the United States, especially in an era long before the rise of the Spanish-language networks, a language clause is effectively meaningless.

[8] The Fox Broadcasting Company, which was (of course) the fourth network IOTL (similarly headed by Diller, who left Paramount to join forces with 20th Century Fox when that studio’s new owner, Rupert Murdoch, evinced a similar willingness to throw money at him to the one which Asper demonstrates ITTL), premiered IOTL with a talk show as well, that being The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, which premiered on October 9, 1986 (a Thursday). Rivers, who left her berth as permanent guest host on The Tonight Show to accept the gig (as Letterman did ITTL, albeit without consulting Carson, which resulted in a lifelong estrangement between them), did not last long – she was fired in May, 1987, though the show continued with a rotating lineup of hosts (including one Arsenio Hall) until it was cancelled in 1988. FOX, as a network, has duly retconned their broadcast history into beginning on April 5, 1987 (a Sunday), with the debut of their primetime lineup, starting with the far more fondly remembered Married… with Children, which ran for 11 seasons and is still considered one of the network’s most iconic shows.

[9] Letterman left Tonight IOTL to host a morning show for NBC in 1980. It was swiftly cancelled, but the network was eager to hold onto Letterman and cancelled Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow to give him the post-Carson timeslot in a bid to keep him onboard (note that both ABC and CBS had vacant late-night timeslots at this point IOTL, Cavett having retreated to PBS and Griffin having moved to first-run syndication). ITTL, on the other hand, different management at NBC (Fred Silverman is still at ABC) does not approve of the notion of a comedic morning talk show, and thus Letterman remains at Tonight, the “permanent guest host” position being created slightly earlier than IOTL (Joan Rivers having been formally appointed as such in 1983). Even IOTL, Letterman guest hosted over 50 times, mostly between 1980 and 1981, before his own late-night show began taping in New York City in 1982.

[10] The Merv Griffin Show ran from 1962, though intermittently; it was off the air entirely for over two years, from March, 1963 to May, 1965. IOTL, CBS cancelled the show in 1972 and the show moved to first-run syndication, where it was produced by, intriguingly enough, Metromedia; ITTL, Merv Griffin does just well enough to remain on CBS, where he perennially ranks second to Carson. As Metromedia was sold to 20th Century Fox in 1986 IOTL, The Merv Griffin Show was cancelled to make way for, yes, an in-house talk show, which did not last. ITTL, Griffin soldiers on but decides to retire after 25 years – but CBS can’t poach Letterman because, unlike Carson, Griffin’s contract is renewed on a year-to-year basis, so Letterman was already signed, sealed, and delivered to PGTV. (No doubt Letterman’s emergence as a new competitor played some role in gently encouraging Griffin, 60 years old in 1985 and already plenty busy with his game shows and other endeavours, to retire.)


This update was co-written with Dan1988, special thanks to him for his contributions, some of which go back for years! :eek: Thanks also to e of pi for assisting with the editing, as usual, and to Electric Monk for his helpful advice. If there’s one important thing I’ve learned in the writing of this update, it’s that you can’t form a television network all by yourself…
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Great update. :)

It seems that with Letterman ITTL, PGTV has avoided the troubles Fox had IOTL with late night talk shows.