If it’s a bit surprising they haven’t had their turns before, they’re getting them now.
Several beloved comedy series are in the TV Land Awards spotlight as the nostalgia-driven network televises the 10th-anniversary edition of the event Sunday, April 29. Kelly Ripa returns as host of the ceremony, taped two weekends earlier at New York’s Lexington Avenue Armory at Gramercy Park, and the casts of the honored shows alone guarantee the room to be filled with familiar faces.
ABC’s “Laverne & Shirley,” which starred Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams as the Milwaukee brewery co-workers and roommates, gets the Fan Favorite Award; CBS’ “One Day at a Time,” about a single working mother (Bonnie Franklin) and her teen daughters (Mackenzie Phillips, Valerie Bertinelli), receives the Innovator Award.
Also, CBS’ vehicle for Pee-wee Herman (alias Paul Reubens), “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” lands the Pop Culture Award; Keenen Ivory Wayans‘ FOX sketch comedy “In Living Color,” which launched the career of Jim Carrey, takes the Groundbreaking Award; and CBS’ “Murphy Brown,” with Candice Bergen as the title television journalist, receives the Impact Award. Additionally, legendary singer Aretha Franklin gets the Music Icon award.
“We had been writing a bicentennial satire for Francis Coppola at American Zoetrope,” then-movie-director-to-be Marshall recalls of the roots of “Laverne & Shirley” for her and Williams. “We knew each other forever. Then my brother (then-TV producer Garry Marshall) called and said, ‘Ya wanna do an episode of “Happy Days” as girls who put out?’ It was more than we got paid for writing, I’ll tell you that.”
It also was a major ratings success, immediately prompting ABC to want a spinoff starring the actresses … but Williams, who’d had a hit movie with “American Graffiti” opposite “Happy Days” star Ron Howard, had a big decision to make.
“At that time,” Marshall tells Zap2it, “if you did commercials, you couldn’t do a TV series. And if you did TV, you couldn’t do movies. Now everyone from movies is doing TV, and everyone who has a TV show is doing commercials. Things are different.”
Not so different, though, that Williams can’t appreciate “Laverne & Shirley” — now seen on The Hub — getting TV Land respect not only for what the sitcom was but for what it still is to many fans.
“Penny and I had no idea how popular the show was,” she maintains of the time they were making it. “They’d run these numbers past us like, ’60 million people are watching,’ but we had no concept of that. We’d been sort of thrown into it, and we were working really hard.”
Despite the long hours and busy pace, Williams says, “We had a lot of laughs and a good time. I remember one day after a table read, we were leaving the room and I saw a newspaper that said, ‘ “Laverne & Shirley” Drives ABC Stock Through the Roof.’ And I said, ‘Penny, come here. What do you think this means?’ And she looked at it, then she said, ‘Well, I’m Laverne, and you’re Shirley.’ “
And they were part of the comedy empire Garry Marshall and Paramount Television had at the time, also including Robin Williams‘ “Mork and Mindy.” Cindy Williams (no relation to Robin) muses, “It was like Marshall University, and those were different classes. It was like a campus.”
Michael McKean (now on Broadway in a revival of “The Best Man”) and David L. Lander, alias Lenny and Squiggy of “Laverne & Shirley,” also make TV Land Award appearances this year.
“One Day at a Time” co-star Bertinelli is now one of the main faces of TV Land, thanks to her role in its show “Hot in Cleveland,” currently in its third season. “They celebrate all kinds of television,” she says of the network, “and the TV Land Awards are always fun. I love classic TV; I think most of us do. I think of ‘Hot in Cleveland’ as comfort food, and that’s what TV Land is.”
Though the Norman Lear-produced “One Day at a Time” isn’t in the network’s lineup, Bertinelli is pleased her first show is being honored. “I think it was such a milestone, so important for its day and age. And it was my coming-out party, I guess. It started my career, and I was very lucky to learn from some of the best. You look at Bonnie and Mackenzie and Pat (Harrington Jr., who played handyman Schneider), and they’re all incredibly good at what they do.”
The first memory Bertinelli has of her “One Day at a Time” experience is “sitting in a hallway and having the casting director come out — after my being back for four or five callbacks — and him saying to me, ‘You stay here,’ and letting everybody else go. And I was like, ‘Does that mean I got it?’ It was that feeling of immense joy when something terrific happens.”
Getting her initial fame as Barbara Cooper would yield much else for Bertinelli, including the place she long held as a star of top-rated TV-movies. She knows, though, that it all goes back to the first “One Day at a Time” entrance she made.
“I came in with a basketball, and I can remember thinking to myself, ‘Please, do it right. Just do it right.’ And I looked out at the audience before I got my cue, and I thought, ‘Wow. I think this is really going to change my life.’ And it did.”