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PIONEERS OF TELEVISION
BEGINNING JANUARY 18 AT 8 PM
EIGHT, ARIZONA PBS

Television Icons James Garner, Linda Evans, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Angie Dickinson, Stefanie Powers, Robert Conrad, Mike Connors, Nichelle Nichols, Martin Landau, Bill Cosby, Fess Parker and Many Others Reveal How They Broke New Ground in Their Famous TV Roles

A special “Legendary Women of Television” event with Angie Dickinson, Linda Evans,Nichelle Nichols and Stefanie Powers will take place at New York City's92 nd Street Y on January 16 to mark the series premiere.

Pioneers of Television reveals intriguing stories and uncovers fascinating facts from the early days of television, including:

  • Gene Roddenberry's first choice to play Spock in “Star Trek.”
  • William Shatner's first TV role (hint: it's not in the “Science Fiction” episode).
  • The first show to have actors use a Teleprompter instead of memorizing their lines.
  • America's biggest western movie star who turned down the starring role in “Gunsmoke,” but recommended Jim Arness for the part.
  • Albert Einstein's favorite TV show (hint: its stars were puppets).
  • The woman and man who shared television's first interracial kiss.
  • The famous actors who started their careers as local children's TV hosts.

*** Answers revealed on season two of Pioneers of Television (and below)!

These and many other little-known facts about some of the most beloved series and stars in television history are revealed when Pioneers of Television returns for a second season Tuesdays, Jan. 18 – Feb. 8, 2011, at 8 p.m. on Eight, Arizona PBS . Narrated by Kelsey Grammer, this four-part series transports viewers behind the scenes for a revealing look at the inception of four of the most popular genres in television: science fiction, westerns, crime dramas and local kids' TV.

Utilizing new interviews with legendary stars, along with never-before-seen images and timeless footage that still entertains decades later, Pioneers of Television brings to life the fascinating history of some of the most successful and beloved shows in television. Stars such as James Garner, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, Angie Dickinson, Bill Cosby, Robert Culp, Stefanie Powers, Martin Landau, Peter Graves, Robert Conrad, Linda Evans, Mike Connors, Fess Parker and writer Stephen J. Cannell are among those interviewed whose imprint on the iconic genres they helped create still impact the medium today.

To mark the premiere, New York City's 92 nd Street Y will celebrate the Pioneers of Television when they welcome four Legendary Women of Television: Angie Dickinson, Linda Evans, Nichelle Nichols and Stefanie Powers for a special evening event on Sunday, January 16. Additional information can be found at www.92y.org .

Pioneers of Television takes viewers back in time to a different era of entertainment, both humorous and poignant,” said John Wilson, PBS chief TV programming executive. “Executive producers Steve Boettcher and Michael Trinklein have once again delivered a remarkable series that captures the innovation, genius and vision behind the early years of television.”

An icon of television in his own right, Kelsey Grammer, who is currently starring in Broadway's “La Cage Aux Folles,” played the celebrated character Dr. Frasier Crane over a span of 20 years. Says Boettcher, “We are thrilled to have Kelsey Grammer as our narrator, a TV legend that has tied the record for the longest-running television character in TV history. We appreciate his resonant voice, but we are even more heartened by his enthusiasm for Pioneers of Television .”

Pioneers of Television depicts the epic beginnings of the four featured television genres and explores the stories and influences of their groundbreaking pioneers. The hour-long episodes are:

“Science Fiction” ( Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011, at 8 p.m. on Eight, Arizona PBS ): Storytellers Gene Roddenberry, Irwin Allen and Rod Serling created the storylines and characters behind the best-loved futuristic television of their time. But as Roddenberry's “Star Trek” competed for ratings with Allen's “Lost in Space,” each show's creator aimed for a very different direction. This episode explores how Roddenberry and Serling (of “The Twilight Zone”) used the future as a stage for modern morality plays, and William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols and other science-fiction stars describe how they prepared to interact on-camera with a malevolent alien force … or, perhaps, a giant radish.

“Westerns” ( Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011, at 8 p.m. on Eight, Arizona PBS ): Known everywhere as the quintessential American cultural identity, westerns filled small screens across the country night after night and were some of the most successful television shows in history. Fess Parker's portrayal of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett channeled the bravery, independence, honesty and rugged individualism of a young nation — and made Walt Disney enough money to build an empire. Westerns introduced James Garner, who starred in the television hit “Maverick,” where he developed the reluctant hero character that would cement his successful TV and film career. Garner, in his only recent interview, and Parker tell their stories, and Linda Evans recalls how two strong female characters emerged with her onscreen interaction with Barbara Stanwyck in “The Big Valley.” This episode also examines the success of Robert Conrad in “The Wild Wild West,” the popularity of “Bonanza” and the creation of the classic series “Gunsmoke” with James Arness — one of the longest-running television series of all time.

“Crime Dramas” ( Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011, at 8 p.m. on Eight, Arizona PBS ): As viewers reveled in being transported to shadowy underworlds, creative geniuses emerged in the forms of Jack Webb (“Dragnet”), Desi Arnaz (“The Untouchables”) and Bruce Geller (“Mannix” and “Mission: Impossible”). Groundbreaking actors Bill Cosby (“I Spy”) and Angie Dickinson (“Police Woman”) reveal the methods behind their successes as the first African-American and breakthrough female lead characters in a television series. Barbara Bain and Martin Landau share the secrets behind the innovative hit “Mission: Impossible”; Peter Falk's friends and colleagues recall the evolution of his “Columbo” character; and James Garner and series creator Stephen J. Cannell recount the success of the “The Rockford Files.”

“Local Kids' TV” ( Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011, at 8 p.m. on Eight, Arizona PBS ): Local kids' programs shaped the childhoods of millions of American children in the early years of television. Performers such as Willard Scott and William Shatner honed their skills performing on live TV with small budgets and little support. With the flimsiest of second-hand store costumes and their own imaginations, they learned how to make their audience laugh, smile and think. One early talent, Stan Freberg, got off the bus in the middle of Hollywood, became a cartoon voice talent and created “Time for Beany” — a show that captured seven out of 10 viewers, including Albert Einstein, during its run in Los Angeles. Freberg's story is told along with the stories of legendary Muppets creator Jim Henson (who started on local television as a teenager), actor Chuck McCann (originator of New York's “Puppet Hotel”), Larry Harmon (who popularized Bozo the Clown) and Nancy Claster (who developed the Baltimore kids' series “Romper Room” — the first franchised show in television history).

Access behind-the-scenes photos and watch video interviews with television pioneers on the Pioneers of Television Facebook page ( facebook.com/pioneersoftelevision ). The series will also be accompanied by a website on pbs.org, launching in late 2010, with a special “in memoriam” section featuring videos of the last interviews of Stephen J. Cannell, Robert Culp, Peter Graves and Fess Parker filmed by the Pioneers of Television producers shortly before their passing in 2010.

***Answers:

  • Gene Roddenberry's first choice to play Spock in “Star Trek”: Martin Landau
  • William Shatner's first TV role: Ranger Bob on “Howdy Doody” 
  • The first show to have actors use a Teleprompter instead of memorizing their lines: “Dragnet”
  • America's biggest western movie star who turned down the starring role in “Gunsmoke,” but recommended Jim Arness for the part: John Wayne
  • Albert Einstein's favorite TV show: Local Los Angeles children's show “Time for Beany”
  • The woman and man who shared television's first interracial kiss: Nichelle Nichols' Lieutenant Uhura and William Shatner's Captain Kirk in “Star Trek”
  • The famous actors who started their careers as local children's TV hosts: Merv Griffin, Ted Knight, Soupy Sales and Adam West (among others)

About Eight, Arizona PBS

Eight, Arizona PBS specializes in the education of children, in-depth news and public affairs, lifelong learning, and the celebration of arts and culture -- utilizing the power of noncommercial television, the Internet, educational outreach services, and community-based initiatives. The PBS station began broadcasting from the campus of Arizona State University on January 30, 1961. Now more than 80 percent of Arizonans receive the signal through a network of translators, cable and satellite systems. With more than 1 million viewers each week, Eight consistently ranks among the most-viewed public television stations per capita in the country. Arizonans provide more than 60 percent of the station's annual budget.

Eight is a member-supported service of Arizona State University.