L is for “Leave It to Beaver”

“Leave It to Beaver” was an American television sitcom broadcast between 1957 and 1963. It ran for six full 39-week seasons (234 episodes), debuting on CBS on October 4, 1957. The following season, it moved to ABC, where it stayed until completing its run on June 20, 1963.

The show was about an inquisitive and often naïve boy, Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver (Jerry Mathers), and his adventures at home, school, and around his suburban Ohio neighborhood. The show also starred Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont as Beaver’s parents, June and Ward Cleaver, and Tony Dow as Beaver’s brother, Wally.

This sitcom defined the “golly gee-whiz” wholesomeness of the mid 50s and early 60s TV, where the father always gets home in time for dinner, the mother cleans the house wearing a dress and pearls, and the kids always learn a lesson by the end of the half-hour episode. It exemplified the idealized suburban family of the mid-20th century.

“Leave It to Beaver” was one of the first primetime sitcom series written from a child’s point of view. It provided a glimpse of middle-class American boyhood. In a typical episode, Beaver gets into some sort of boyish scrape, then faces his parents for reprimand and correction. Neither parent was infallible and the series often showed the parents debating their approach to child rearing, and some episodes were built around parental gaffes.

The still-popular show ended its run in 1963 primarily because it had reached its natural conclusion: In the final show, Beaver is about to graduate grade school to move into high school, but Wally was about to enter college and the fraternal dynamic at the heart of the show’s premise would be broken with their separation.

At around the same time that “Leave It to Beaver” was on the air, other popular sitcoms with family-oriented plots included “The Advenures of Ozzie and Harriet,” “Father Knows Best,” “Make Room for Daddy,” and “The Andy Griffith Show.”

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K is for “Kung Fu”

“Kung Fu” was an American action-adventure, martial arts, Western drama television series. Created by Ed Spielman, directed and produced by Jerry Thorpe, and developed by Herman Miller, the series aired on ABC from October 1972 to April 1975 for a total of 63 episodes. Kung Fu was preceded by a full-length  feature television pilot, an ABC Movie of the Week, which was broadcast on February 22, 1972. “Kung Fu” became one of the most popular television programs of the early 1970s, receiving widespread critical acclaim and commercial success upon its release.

The show followed the adventures of , a Shaolin monk, played by David Carradine, who traveled through the American Old West, armed only with his spiritual training and his skill in martial arts. Kwai Chang Caine was the orphaned son of an American man, Thomas Henry Caine (Bill Fletcher), and a Chinese woman, Kwai Lin, in mid-19th-century China. After his maternal grandfather’s death he is accepted for training at a Shaolin Monastery, where he grows up to become a Shaolin priest and martial arts expert. Keye Luke (as the blind Master Po) and Philip Ahn (as Master Kan) were also members of the regular cast.

Although it was his intention to avoid notice, Caine’s training and sense of social responsibility repeatedly forced him out into the open, to fight for justice or protect the underdog. After each such encounter he had to move on, both to avoid capture and prevent harm from coming to those he had helped.

There was some controversy around the show based upon the notion that the series’ idea was “stolen” from Bruce Lee, but also in the fact that he wasn’t cast for the leading role, and that that decision had racial connotations. In an interview, Lee stated that he had developed a concept for a television series called “The Warrior,” meant to star himself, about a martial artist in the American Old West but that he was having trouble pitching it to Warner Brothers and Paramount.

At the time, George Takei (Sulu from Star Trek) and the Association of Asian Pacific American Artists (AAPAA) filed a formal complaint for unfair hiring practices. They wanted an Asian actor in the leading role. But the studio decided to go with Carradine, an American actor in the role of Kwai Change Caine, believing that an American actor would be more acceptable to American audiences.

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J is for “JAG”

“JAG,” which is the U.S. military acronym for Judge Advocate General, was an American legal drama television series with a U.S. Navy theme, created by Donald P. Bellisario, and produced by Belisarius Productions in association with Paramount Network Television. The series originally aired on NBC for one season from September 23, 1995, to May 22, 1996, and then on CBS for an additional nine seasons from January 3, 1997, to April 29, 2005. The first season was co-produced with NBC Productions and was originally perceived as a “Top Gun” meets “A Few Good Men” hybrid series. In total, 227 episodes were produced over 10 seasons. At the time of the original airing of its fifth season in the United States, JAG was seen in over 90 countries worldwide.The series followed the exploits of the Washington metropolitan area–based uniformed lawyers in the Department of the Navy’s Office of the Judge Advocate General, who, in the line of duty, can prosecute and defend criminal cases under the jurisdiction of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Almost all episodes of the series feature scenes filmed aboard real United States Navy ships.

Like “Law & Order,” the plots from many “JAG” episodes were often “ripped from the headlines,” with portions of the plot either resembling or referencing recognizable aspects of actual cases or incidents.

While there was an ensemble cast, the two main protagonists were USN Lt. Harmon Rabb, Jr. (David James Elliott) and USN Lt. JG Sarah “Mac” MacKenzie (Katherine Bell). Rabb and Mac’s obvious attraction to each other, which couldn’t be allowed to interfere with their professional relationship, was a long-running thematic element.

“JAG” creator Donald P. Bellisario was developing a spin-off in 2003. The spin-off was focused around the work of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). It was aired in April 2003 and focused on the NCIS team, with most of the JAG regulars as supporting characters. Whereas the episodes of “JAG” were primarily oriented on a mixture of courtroom drama and military activities in the field, “NCIS” episodes were more focused on criminal investigations. “NCIS” also followed a different storytelling format from “JAG,” emphasizing character humor to a larger extent than its parent program.

Since “JAG” first aired in 1995, it and its spin-offs, “NCIS,” “NCIS Los Angeles,” and “NCIS New Orleans,” these series have been powerhouse network shows for CBS.

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I is for “I Dream of Jeannie”

“I Dream of Jeannie” aired on NBC from September 18, 1965, to May 26, 1970. It was an American fantasy sitcom about the relationship between an astronaut (Larry Hagman, who later played J.R. Ewing on “Dallas”) and a beautiful, voluptuous 2,000-year-old genie (Barbara Eden). The astronaut becomes the genie’s master. The series was created and produced by Sidney Sheldon in response to the great success of rival network ABC’s “Bewitched,” which had debuted in 1964 as the second-most watched program in the United States.

In the pilot episode, astronaut Tony Nelson is on a space flight when his one-man capsule comes down far from the planned recovery area, near a deserted island in the South Pacific. On the beach, Tony notices a strange bottle that rolls by itself. When he rubs it after removing the stopper, smoke starts shooting out and a Persian-speaking female genie materializes and kisses Tony on the lips, shocking him.

They cannot understand each other until Tony expresses his wish that the genie could speak English, which she then does. Then, per his instructions, she “blinks” and causes a recovery helicopter to show up to rescue Tony, who is so grateful, he tells her she is free, but Jeannie, who instantly falls in love with Tony after being trapped for 2,000 years, re-enters her bottle and rolls it into Tony’s duffel bag so she can accompany him back home.

Tony at first keeps Jeannie in her bottle most of the time, but he finally relents and allows her to enjoy a life of her own. However, her life is devoted mostly to his, and most of their problems stem from her love and affection towards Tony, and her desire to please him and fulfill her ancient heritage as a genie.

Jeannie’s causing chaos by attempting to “help” Tony was basically the plot line for much of the show’s five year run. The show was a moderate success, making into the top 30 shows in only two of its five seasons. It was a lightweight, silly, and enjoyable, albeit unremarkable, sitcom.

As an indicator of how times have changed in the 55 years since “Jeannie” was in prime time, one of the biggest points of contention between the creative department and the producers was the amount of skin Jeannie was showing with her costume. Mid-drift was allowed, but the second the naval area popped out, the producers were going to slap the writers with hefty fines.

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H is for “Hill Street Blues”

“Hill Street Blues” was an American television law enforcement drama that aired on NBC for seven seasons (1981–87). The show received great critical acclaim, winning four consecutive Emmy Awards for outstanding dramatic series, and it is recognized as a pioneer in the gritty crime and police television genre.

“Hill Street Blues” recounted a day in the life of the officers at the Hill Street police precinct, located in a crime-ridden urban ghetto in an unnamed American city. Each episode began with a morning roll call and ending with a late-night summary of events. The show placed a premium on good writing, and its scripts were recognized for their artistry, innovation, complexity, and hard-hitting realism. The series dealt with real-life issues and employed professional jargon and slang to a greater extent than had been seen before on television.

The award-winning ensemble cast included Daniel J. Travanti as Captain Capt. Francis Xavier “Frank” Furillo, Veronica Hamel as public defender Joyce Davenport, Michael Conrad as Sgt. Philip Esterhaus, Bruce Weitz ad Det. Mick Belker, Joe Spano as Sgt. Henry Goldblume, James B. Sikking as Sgt. Howard Hunter. Rounding out the cast were Betty Thomas, Robert Prosky, Ed Marinaro, Det. Kiel Martin, 1981–87, Taurean Blacque, and René Enriquez.

The show was overseen by producer Steven Bochco, who later repeated his success with other series, most notably, “L.A. Law” (1986–94) and “NYPD Blue” (1993–2005).  The innovative and edgy style of  “Hill Street Blues” employed handheld cameras that lent it a documentary-style authenticity. Fast-paced editing ratcheted up the tension while linking together the show’s numerous plotlines. “Hill Street Blues” offered sophisticated, multilayered narratives with the daily crime investigations that occupied much of the characters’ lives. But much of the show’s success could be attributed to its depiction of the psychological drama and moral ambiguities that played out on a personal level for those characters.

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