Category Archives: Television

Faye Emerson, first queen of talk shows

fayeemerson1During the Great White Male Host Dance-off of 2014-15, people complained that no women were named as successors to any of the major late-night shows. Now we have Sam Bee and Chelsea Handler, and decades ago we had Joan Rivers, but she wasn’t the first. That crown goes to Faye Emerson, who was more than the first female late-night host; she was the queen of early television.

If you think women aren’t taken seriously as late night candidates now, consider 1950. It was post-war America, the men were home and the women were expected to resume their careers as mothers, housewives, or perhaps teachers and secretaries if they were really bold.

Enter Faye Emerson. Born on July 8, 1917, she was first an actress in war dramas and other hard-boiled movies of the 1930s and 40s. After she married the President’s son, Elliott Roosevelt, she was thrust into publicity opportunities like interviewing Stalin during a trip to the Soviet Union. When she appeared on a game show in 1949 with her husband, she was so smart and witty she felt she had to apologize on-air for upstaging him. Her talent was noticed, however, because she received an offer for her own CBS show later that year. While doing that show, she also signed with NBC for the Faye Emerson Show, making her the first woman with two simultaneous shows on television.  She could talk pearls or politics, and her habit of wearing evening gowns with plunging necklines earned her the tag of “The High I.Q. in the Low-cut Gown.” Her next show would be a travelogue, Faye Emerson’s Wonderful Town, showcasing cities around the country in 1952.

faye2After her divorce from Roosevelt, Emerson announced her upcoming marriage to entertainer Skitch Henderson on-air, something that simply wasn’t done back then. She and her new husband teamed up for their own show, Faye and Skitch, in 1953. Not only did she have her own programs, she was the go-to person for panels and substitute host duties. She occasionally covered for Edward R. Murrow on his show, Person to Person, and for Garry Moore as well.  While she could be the ultimate glamorous TV presenter, she also showed America she had a brain, discussing civil rights, unions, blacklisting and women’s rights, and debating conservative personalities like William F. Buckley. She was so well-known to audiences that she garnered the nickname of “Mrs. Television.”

Emerson’s thoughtful opinions, quick mind and lessening coyness earned her many detractors, who brought up her looks and curves often in an effort to demean her and diminish her role as a social commentator.

As television shifted from talk shows to pure entertainment ,Emerson took her leave from the glowing box in everyone’s living room in the 1960s and spent a well-earned retirement in Europe, where social views were more forgiving. She ended up in Majorca, Spain, where she passed away in 1983. Today her name is largely forgotten, but her legacy lives on in people like Barbara Walters, Lesley Stahl, Rachael Maddow, and Oprah Winfrey, along with so many others. Below is one of the few remaining episodes of Emerson’s show. At the 6:30 mark, she interviews William Cimillo, a bus driver who abandoned his route and drove to Florida, becoming a folk hero along the way. Enjoy.

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Filed under girl power, History, pop culture, Television, women

Why Cat Grant is just as important as Supergirl

Photo: CBS

Photo: CBS

Monday’s premiere of Supergirl on CBS proved that people are willing to watch a female-led superhero show, but there’s more going on besides the adorable, plucky girl with the House of El crest on her chest. Admittedly, the premiere hits the girl power message with all the speed and force of a daughter of Krypton, and well they should. The waitress in the diner scene remarks that finally her daughter will have “someone to look up to” and out here in the real world, beyond National City, scores of little girls will dress up in red and blue and pretend to save civilization.

That’s awesome, but a girl doesn’t have to grab a cape to tap into this show’s female power. While Kara Danvers whips off her glasses and fights crime, Cat Grant, Kara’s boss and the head of CatCo, is kicking butt in her own way. She’s an entrepreneur who makes tough decisions and is completely comfortable in her own skin. Not only that, she expects the same from Kara, as noted in the scene where her secretly super assistant protests the name “Supergirl.”

“What do you think is so bad about ‘girl’?” she asks. “I’m a girl, and your boss, and powerful and rich and hot and smart. If you perceive Supergirl as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem you?”

She knows she’s attractive, shooting the “she doesn’t know she’s beautiful” trope in the face with a bazooka, and she has brains and she doesn’t need your approval, thank you very much. She also expects those around her to step up, and re-evaluates their worth once they do, as she tells Kara “If you can’t take credit when you do something well, you’ll be at the bottom of the pile forever.”

Supergirl’s sweet, innocent attitude is wonderful, and she’s a lovely role model. But any girl who grows up with the confidence of Cat Grant could actually change the world and make sure women finally earn as much as men.  There are girls who aim to be princesses and superheroes and that’s fine. There are also girls like my friend’s young daughter who grabs Mom’s pink Coach bag and pretends to be a CEO closing a global deal on a cell phone before jetting off to Europe. That’s even better. Because that dream can come true.

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‘Star Trek’ legend gets closer look at the final frontier

nichellenichols‘Star Trek’ legend Nichelle Nichols moved one step closer to her iconic role of Uhura on Tuesday when she flew aboard NASA’s SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. The science center is built aboard a modified Boeing 747, and is the world’s biggest flying observatory, boasting a telescope that views the skies through an open door in the aircraft.

Nichols even participated in a Twitter Q&A during the flight, discussing details about the tech of the telescope and the craft itself, noting that the cabin was pressurized so they didn’t notice altitude changes even though the observatory door is open at 37,000 feet, and answering a fan who asked if she planned to taunt William Shatner about being closer to space than he was. (“I sure am!”)

She was also asked a question near and dear to most geek girls’ hearts concerning how to get more females and people of color involved in STEM careers.

“I think science has to be taught in schools as an exciting topic to children so that they can become more engaged as adults,” she replied.

The SOFIA flight is the culmination of a decades-long partnership with NASA, since Nichols has been active in encouraging minorities to be part of the organization’s space program. Her work both on and off the screen helped two women pioneers, Sally Ride and Mae Jemison, achieve their dreams of going into space.  When asked if her ground-breaking role on ‘Star Trek’ sparked her interest in space travel, she replied that she’s always had a passion for space. Here’s wishing she has many more years of sharing that passion with generations to come.

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Filed under Education, News, Science, Space, Television, women

Who could take on the Cylons? Xena.

xenaprincessThese days we hear a lot of back and forth discussion about the “princess culture” for girls, but in the late 90s, young female TV fans didn’t need tiaras or tutus for their fix. They had Xena: Warrior Princess, an incredible show featuring the kick-butt moves and acting of Lucy Lawless. Today is Lucy’s birthday, and although she’s moved on from the chakram-throwing champion, that particular role showed that female characters could be funny, fierce and strong. Who didn’t try to cut a hole in a Frisbee and fling it fast enough to take down a bad guy? Okay, maybe it was just us.

Since then, Lawless has portrayed a Cylon, and she gave voice to Wonder Woman in a Justice League animated movie, so she’s definitely preserved her spot in geekdom and in eternal nerd debates about who would win in a fight, D’Anna or Xena. But in a decade that gave us Agent Scully, Captain Janeway and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena still managed to capture our hearts at knifepoint. Battle on, Lucy!

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So Long, Mermaid Man, and Thanks for All the Fish

 

Ernest Borgnine passed away on Sunday at the age of 95. He did so much as an actor, and inevitably showed up in anything that was fun, from McHale’s Navy (classic TV show AND cheesetastic movie) to the record-keeper in Red. He was also a character actor in the first-ever sci-fi TV show in the U.S., Captain Video, starred in Airwolf, and guest-starred in everything from The Love Boat to E.R.

Where we’ll really miss him, though, is Bikini Bottom. His childlike sense of fun came through loud and clear with Mermaid Man. Let’s hope Barnacle Boy is ready to fill those seashell pasties. Rest in peace, Ernest, and thanks for all the wonder.

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