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The bizarre, computer-scripted TV show referenced in last week’s ‘Mad Men’ actually aired (sort of)
05.07.2014
07:44 am

Topics:
Television

Tags:
Mad Men
Tim Conway
George Schlatter
Turn-On

Turn-On
 
On Wednesday, February 5, 1969, ABC debuted one of the most forward-looking and controversial comedy sketch shows of all time—although viewers in much of the country never got to see even a single episode aired to completion. The show was Turn-On, George Schlatter and Ed Friendly’s more conceptually rigorous follow-up to their smash hit Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Today it is regarded as one of television’s most cringeworthy failures—just check on Google Books if you don’t believe me—but it’s not at all clear that it deserves such derision. It may not have worked entirely—it’s difficult to tell, as episodes are awfully hard to come by—but it was probably the closest thing the United States had to Monty Python’s Flying Circus during that whole era. But, of course, that show didn’t even exist yet.

The premise of Turn-On was that the show had been generated by a computer, at that time a heady concept indeed, as few people had ever had any real-life contact with such an object. Replacing the colorful and groovy sets of Laugh-In was a blank, featureless landscape taking place inside a large white orb—I grope to imagine it, and all I can come up with is Woody Allen’s 1973 movie Sleeper. The ostensible “host” was a young Tim Conway, who apparently spent the entire episode seeking to kill himself. Much of the audio track of the show was not a laugh track but was instead supplied by a Moog synthesizer, which was also quite a new sensory experience for audiences to deal with. I’ll let Wikipedia finish this paragraph: “Several of the jokes were presented with the screen divided into four squares resembling comic strip panels. The production credits of the episode appeared after each commercial break, instead of conventionally at the beginning or end.” Bracing stuff, indeed.

The cancellation of Turn-On is the stuff of legend. Again, Wikipedia is the most efficient way to express this:
 

Conway has stated that Turn-On was canceled midway through its only episode, so that the party the cast and crew held for its premiere as the show aired across the United States also marked its cancellation. Cleveland, Ohio’s WEWS-TV did not return to the show after the first commercial break (after “11 minutes”, according to Conway). The station sent ABC network management an angry telegram: “If your naughty little boys have to write dirty words on the walls, please don’t use our walls. Turn-On is turned off, as far as WEWS is concerned.” Denver, Colorado’s KBTV did not air the episode, stating that after previewing it “We have decided, without hesitation, that it would be offensive to a major segment of the audience”; Portland, Oregon’s KATU and Seattle, Washington’s KOMO-TV also decided to not show the episode. Viewers of Little Rock, Arkansas’s KATV, which disliked the show but decided to air it, “jam[med] the station’s switchboard” with complaints.

 
If you watched “The Monolith,” the most recent episode of Mad Men, you probably failed to catch an exquisitely opaque reference to Turn-On—thing is, if you blinked, you missed it. The episode focuses on the installation of a large computer in the offices of Sterling Cooper & Partners, with all the doomy implications that implies. (In my sincere opinion, this does not qualify as much of a spoiler.) The computer thematically dominates the proceedings; in one scene two characters even discuss the device’s “metaphorical” implications. At a certain point, Harry Crane is seen through a smoky windowpane bellowing to an unseen character about how (this is a total paraphrase) “The writers of that show had clearly never seen an X-2000 in person”—and you can barely make out the words “Tim Conway” as well. I reckon that “The Monolith” takes place around April 18, 1969.
 
Turn-On
 
It’s hard to judge without access to the episodes themselves, but Turn-On may have been the boldest expression of “sick” humor, à la Lenny Bruce, on American television up to that point. (Hell, it quoted the renegade LSD advocate Timothy Leary in its very title.) It reminds me of nothing so much as another colossal misjudgment of mass satire that dates from the same period—the Monkees’ movie Head, which by a neat coincidence premiered almost precisely three months earlier, on November 6, 1968.

Schlatter is something of a legend in certain nostalgic TV circles. In addition to Laugh-In, he spent the 1970s and 1980s producing a number of expensive, garish, and kind of awesome celebrity TV galas, all of which have titles like Goldie and Liza Together and some of which will surely pop up on DM at some point, probably in posts authored by me. He also produced NBC’s Real People in the early 1980s. He’s clearly a little bitter about the Turn-On experience, which if nothing else killed his buzz after riding so high after the success of Laugh-In.

In any case, Schlatter is still among us, and fairly recently, judging from the clip posted below, has been defending Turn-On as a brilliant piece of television and writing off its quick cancellation as the whim of a misguided exec in Cleveland (and not, conveniently, a massive misjudgment of the audience’s appetite for odd satire).

I’m quoting a couple of snippets from the Schlatter interview embedded below because it’s important to get some of Turn-On‘s content into the record.
 

The original commitment was for 13 shows, we sold it to Bristol Meyers, who were a very, very conservative sponsor. And when they saw the pilot, with Tim Conway … trying to commit suicide all through the show, they increased the purchase from 13 to 16. It went on the air, and there was a guy in Cleveland who wanted to keep Peyton Place on the air, he hated the idea of losing Peyton Place, so he got on the phone—he’d never seen the show—and called all of the affiliates, and said, “This is terrible, we have to get rid of it, it’s gonna ruin your station and my station” … so they kept cancelling the show before anyone had seen it because of this one wingnut in Cleveland. … He was very effective, though. … It was just this one wacko in Cleveland.

One girl had a vending machine, and she put a quarter in, and you panned down and it said, “The Pill.” And she went crazy—it wouldn’t come out of the vending machine, and she went nuts, screaming. They thought, “Well, this is a woman. This is … sexually aggressive women.” And I said, “Yeah. That happens, you know. Where do you think all these babies come from?” But they resented that there was a sexually aggressive woman going crazy when she couldn’t get a pill. And then we had the Pope there, and the Pope would say, “Peace, baby.”

 

Here’s a curious, minute-long excerpt from the show (actually an un-aired episode), complete with intrusive voiceover:
 

 
And this is a wildly entertaining clip of Schlatter discussing the show, lasting about 6 minutes. My new home town of Cleveland comes in for its share of abuse, but whatevs.
 

 
(Top image via Showbiz Imagery and Chicanery, which helpfully figured out the Mad Men connection so I didn’t have to.)

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
*Brilliant* blaxploitation ‘Mad Men’ parody: ‘Don-O-Mite’
04.11.2014
11:38 am

Topics:
Amusing
Television

Tags:
Mad Men
blaxploitation


 
If this was a real AMC TV show, I’d watch the shit out of it!!! It plays like Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song meets Putney Swope, written by Rudy Ray Moore and directed by Melvin Van Peebles.

The character “Black Peggy” as a Pam Grier meets Angela Davis-type won my heart! Brilliant.

An ad agency—naturally—Leroy & Clarkson created this entertaining piece.


 

 

 
Via Laughing Squid

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Kids’ Halloween Costumes That They’re Too Young to Understand


A miniature Don Draper.
 
Flavorwire has an excellent roundup of photos titled “Kids’ Halloween Costumes That They’re Too Young to Understand.”

Missing from the list: Little Johnny Cash.


“I shot a boy in Reno just for some candy corn.”

 

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Mad Men: Roger Sterling’s LSD trip was based on real ad


 
In last week’s episode of Mad Men, smug Madison Avenue advertising honcho Roger Sterling drops acid for the first time, thumbs through a magazine with the above image and then looks into a mirror, seeing himself with a similar situation going on with his own hair.

The ad was actually real and so was the product: “Great Day For Men” hair dye. The gentleman modeling the two-tone ‘do? None other than future “Ted Baxter,” the great Ted Knight!

Click here to a see larger image.
 

 
Via WOW Report

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Breaking Mad: If ‘Breaking Bad’ had opening credits like ‘Mad Men’
03.29.2012
09:01 am

Topics:
Animation
Art
Television

Tags:
Breaking Bad
Mad Men


 
Breaking Bad re-imagined with Mad Men-style opening credits by Los Angeles-based editor Hey Look A Monster.
 

 
Via Laughing Squid

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Don Draper Undone
12.23.2010
09:30 am

Topics:
Amusing
Television

Tags:
Don Draper
Mad Men
Pete Campbell

image
 
Things are not always what they seem in this dramatic recut of Mad Men by EditorLosAngeles.

 
(via The High Definite)

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Don Draper Says “What?”
11.03.2010
05:04 pm

Topics:
Amusing
Television

Tags:
Don Draper
Mad Men
What

 
What?

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Birthday boy Lenny Bruce on Playboy’s Penthouse, 1959

image
 
Speculating on how an 85-year-old Lenny Bruce would be celebrating his birthday today is as fun as it is pointless.

But it’s pretty easy to guess that edgy comedy’s patron saint would not have been able to stretch out casually on TV for 25 minutes in conversation with a legendary publisher and lifestyle creator like the Hef.

That’s what happened in 1959 on the first episode of Playboy’s Penthouse, Hugh Hefner’s first foray into TV, which broadcast from WBKB in his Chicago hometown. This was the first mass-market exposure of the erstwhile club-bound Bruce, and its high-end hepness set the tone for the show’s two-season run, which featured a ton of figures in the jazz culture scene.

Of course, the dynamic between the eloquent snapping-and-riffing Long Islander Bruce and the perennially modest Midwestern Hefner is classic as the comedian covers topics like “sick” comedy, nose-blowing, Steve Allen, network censorship, tattoos & Jews, decency wackos, Lou Costello, integration, stereotypes, medicine and more.
 

 
Part II | Part III | Part IV

 

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
Real life models for ‘Mad Men’ characters
09.10.2010
03:25 pm

Topics:
History
Television

Tags:
Mad Men

image
 
Fascinating think piece about advertising in the 1960s (and a little beyond) from Century of the Self documentarian Adam Curtis that sheds some interesting light on the actual historical Madison Avenue figures that certain characters from Mad Men seem to be based on.

For instance, although the deeply complex and anxious Don Draper character was obviously invented, there were certainly men in advertising during the era whose accomplishments and attitudes towards their craft might be seen to have an influence on how Draper is drawn, to wit, Rosser Reeves, legendary chairmen of the Ted Bates agency and pioneer of television advertising.

In his book, Reality in Advertising, Reeves delineated the concept of the USP or unique selling point. The idea was to condense the products’ benefits into as direct a statement as possible and then carpet-bomb the population with the advertising campaign so that this message penetrated the mass consciousness

Reeves’ favourite slogan was the one that he—and Don Draper—came up with for Lucky Strike: “It’s Toasted.”

If you are a fan of the series, Curtis’s essay is a must read:

Other than Herta Herzog there were few women in high positions in Madison Avenue. But then Shirley Polykoff rose up because she invented the phrase for Miss Clairol hair colour bath - “Does She, or Doesn’t She?”

Polykoff is the model for Peggy Olsen in Mad Men. She was a junior copywriter at Foote Cone and Belding and she was convinced that women should be allowed to be what they wanted to be - and she expressed that through a series of adverts for Clairol.

Clairol’s products allowed women to colour their hair themselves at home for the first time. But there was widespread social disapproval - only “chorus girls” coloured their hair. Polykoff broke that. For Nice ‘n Easy, Clairol’s combined shampoo and colour she wrote - “The closer he gets, the better you look”.

And then for Lady Clairol - which allowed you to become a platinum blonde for the first time - Polykoff wrote one of the greatest slogans ever:

“If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a blonde”

This campaign was running when Betty Friedan was just finishing The Feminine Mystique. She was so “bewitched” by the slogan, and its message, that she went out and bought some Lady Clairol and bleached her hair.

Madison Avenue (Adam Curtis Blog)
 
image
 
Thank you, Michael Backes of Los Angeles, California!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Sad Don Draper
09.07.2010
02:39 pm

Topics:
Amusing
Television

Tags:
Don Draper
Mad Men
Sad Don Draper

image
 
After Sunday’s episode of Mad Men, where character Don Draper was seen crying, a new meme has popped up, almost instantaneously on the Internet: witness Sad Don Draper.

(via The High Definite)

 

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Mad Men / X-Men Mash-Up Art
11.10.2009
11:46 am

Topics:
Pop Culture

Tags:
Mad Men
X-Men

image

image

Comics Alliance shares this combination of two of the greatest things ever. It’s like my personality ideals as a 7-year-old and a 27-year-old were combined into one big stew of awesome:

If you missed the “Mad Men” finale last night, my lips are sealed, but daaaaamn am I excited for the next season. As the interminable wait begins for Season 4, we’ve got a little something to tide you over: An X-Men Meets “Mad Men” mashup. Tell me these aren’t perfect (except for the spelling of Jean Grey’s name)! The notion of a smoldering brood-off between Jon Hamm and Hugh Jackman is truly a wonderful thing to imagine.

(Comics Alliance: Mad Men/X-Men)

Posted by Jason Louv | Leave a comment
The Retro Cinematography of Mad Men
09.07.2009
01:43 pm

Topics:
Pop Culture

Tags:
Alfred Hitchcock
Mad Men

image

 

Over at the Film Freak Central blog, Jefferson Robbins was stymied in his efforts to write about his favorite television series Mad Med. What can you say about Mad Men that’s not already been said a million times? The result was this interesting video love letter to Mad Men which focuses on the cinematography of the series and Alfred Hitchcock’s influence on the show.

 


RETRO: The Camera & ‘Mad Men’
by Jefferson_Robbins

 

Via Joel Johnson’s Twitter

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment