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Jewish Journal

Giants of the Small Screen

by Shoshana Lewin-Fischer

April 15, 2004 | 8:00 pm

Andy and Opie. Archie and Meathead. The Professor and Mary Ann. Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia. We can all thank Sheldon Leonard, Norman Lear, Sherwood Schwartz and Susan Harris, respectively, for bringing these people into our living rooms and the pop culture landscape.

To some, they were the menches next door, but to the TV Land cable network they are "Moguls," the ones with the "golden touch," says Merv Griffin, host of the six-part series, which debuts Wednesday, April 21.

The show, narrated by actor Adam Arkin, devotes one hour each Wednesday to the last five boob-tube decades -- two for the 1970s, due to the size of everyone's hair.

The series is packed with enough interesting tidbits to please any TVologist. For instance, Leonard brought "The Danny Thomas Show" to Mayberry to introduce the character of Andy Griffith, thus eliminating the need to spend money on a separate pilot -- an idea Lear would capitalize on two decades later with his "All in the Family" franchise (go ahead, count the spinoffs).

The first episode of "Moguls," "The 50s," splits time between TV pioneers Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz and Leonard/Danny Thomas -- and answers the question of why the two companies never merged (hint: creative differences).

The final episode, "The 90s," takes us to the cutting-edge worlds of Darren Star ("Sex and the City"), Dick Wolf ("Law and Order") and Jerry Bruckheimer (the "CSI" franchise).

Like their movie counterparts, the moguls were not overt in their Judaism. However, there were several Yiddishkayt touches along the way, from Buddy Sorrell's 1966 adult bar mitzvah on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" to Charlotte York's conversion to Judaism on "Sex and the City" in 2003.

Ironically, the moguls took stories from their own lives (many of "The Brady Bunch" plots were from Schwartz's own family) and created the ultimate non-Jewish, all-American families. Thanks to syndication, the creative vision of these men and women will live on long after their closing credits have rolled.

Part one of "TV Land Moguls," "The 50s," airs April 21, 9 p.m. For more information, visit www.tvland.com .

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