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Archive for Friday, December 30, 2011

Those we lost in 2011: an appreciation

December 30, 2011

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As 2011 comes to a close, let’s remember those figures from television history who left us during 2011. Some were far too young. Others lived into their 10th decade. Some were household names, like Harry Morgan (“Dragnet,” “M-A-S-H”), Andy Rooney (“60 Minutes”) and Peter Falk (“Columbo”).

The very definition of a big Hollywood star, Elizabeth Taylor appeared often on television, most notably on “The Simpsons,” where she was the only actress to provide the voice of Maggie.

Others may not register at first, but made an indelible impression nonetheless. Few heard of actor Len Lesser before he played Jerry’s odd Uncle Leo on “Seinfeld.” Character actress Frances Bay also appeared on “Seinfeld” as the old lady Jerry mugs in order to steal a loaf of marble rye.

Jackie Cooper began as a star in early talking pictures and “Our Gang” shorts before becoming a television star in the 1950s on “The People’s Choice.” Long before the workout craze of the 1980s, Jack LaLanne promoted physical fitness on television. James Arness starred on “Gunsmoke” as Matt Dillon for 20 years. Alan Sues brought a camp element to “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” that contrasted brilliantly with that series’ swinger sensibility.

If you’ve enjoyed an Oscar telecast over the years, thank Gil Cates, who produced 14 of them. If you watched a rock performance in the pre-MTV era, you probably saw it on “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert,” produced by Kirshner. Producer Sherwood Schwartz not only created the hit series “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch,” he also co-wrote their catchy theme songs. Madelyn Pugh Davis wrote many of the scripts that made Americans love “I Love Lucy.” Director Sidney Lumet cut his teeth during television’s golden age of dramas. Producer Bert Schneider went from “The Monkees” to become a Hollywood producer and a force behind “Easy Rider,” ‘‘Five Easy Pieces,” ‘‘The Last Picture Show” and other films that defined this era as one of Hollywood’s most creative.

Character actor Charles Napier spent a long career playing heavies, but he’s still well remembered for a “Star Trek” walk-on as a guitar-strumming hippie. After only one season on the recent Starz period action series “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” Andy Whitfield was stricken with cancer and died this year at age 39. We also remember wrestler Randy Savage, “Taxi” star Jeff Conaway, “Honey West” star Anne Francis and John Dye, well known for his role on “Touched by an Angel” as Andrew, the angel of death. Let’s thank them all for their contributions to the medium we can’t live without.

Tonight’s other highlights

• Marathon helping of “American Pickers” (7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday, History).

• Sarah’s former mentor returns on “Chuck” (7 p.m., NBC).

• A new start for a steakhouse on “Kitchen Nightmares” (7 p.m., Fox).

• Ray Suarez hosts a “Need to Know” (7:30 p.m., PBS) look at the upcoming Jan. 3 Iowa Caucuses.

• An accident reveals a family’s fabled legacy on “Grimm” (8 p.m., NBC).

• Walter’s creepy past resurfaces on “Fringe” (8 p.m., Fox).

• The cast glances back on their adventures up North on “Gold Rush” (8 p.m., Discovery).

• A murder casts light on a mob dynasty’s dysfunction on “Blue Bloods” (9 p.m., CBS).

• Scheduled on “Dateline” (9 p.m., NBC): A love triangle ends in murder.

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