Greatest Moments in Sitcom History — Part 4: The Hams

A couple years ago I asked some very funny writers about their favorite sitcom moments. Here’s Claudia LonowNell ScovellMerrill Markoeand Stephen Root on theirs.


Claudia Lonow (Writer/Creator: Rude AwakeningAccidentally on Purpose): Of all of the brilliant I Love Lucy episodes — stomping grapes, the scary one when she has a vase stuck on her head, the one where she proves she can’t even handle working at a chocolate factory — “Lucy Gets In Pictures” stands out as my favorite.

Because finally, Lucy gets in pictures! She actually does, which is so satisfying after she’s tried so hard, for so long, with so many obstacles.


In this episode, Lucy lands her dream gig: Not only is she playing a glamorous showgirl, but the script calls for a dramatic death scene after she is shot in the middle of a performance. All Lucy needs to do is walk down a staircase with a gigantic head dress on. But the head dress is absurdly tall and heavy, and she can’t even keep her head upright, let alone gracefully prance down a set of stairs.

Each take is worse than the one before. Finally, the director gives her part to another girl and puts Lucy in a smaller head dress. Lucy’s devastated – she still wants to be the one who gets shot. During the next take, even though she’s wearing the smaller head dress, even though the director has taken her part away, when the gun goes off, Lucy does a dramatic death scene down the staircase. When the director asks her why she reacted this way — she’s not the one who’s supposed to be shot — Lucy answers: “He missed.”

There’s one obstacle Lucy can’t do anything about: She doesn’t know what she’s doing. She’s not actually that talented, and she’s certainly not experienced. Lucille Ball was a brilliant performer, but Lucy Ricardo was just a charming, ambitious person who sings off key and can’t take direction. But she can’t see that, and she never gives up. Most real musicians will tell you the hardest thing to do is sing out of tune – and Lucy did it to perfection.


Merrill Markoe (Writer, Co-Creator – Late Night with David Letterman): I had lost interest in sitcoms for a long time until the British version of The Office turned up. From episode one, I was completely bowled over by Mr. Gervais’ brilliant dead on vision of unctuous, jokey smarm in the person of David Brent. I was riveted by the way this show pulled off having an awful person as its central character.

I think it was the first utterly repellent/totally fascinating character I’d seen someone pull off in an ongoing series: all the winking, the nervous giggling, the hand gestures that belie the content of the words, the delusions about his role in the world and the way others see him.

In the very first episode, the way he shows a temp around what is designed to look like a truly boring soul-killing dreary workplace, stopping to point out every cartoon tacked up on the wall as proof of the hilarious ribald no holds barred atmosphere of non-stop fun that the staff is having is just brilliant. I’d never seen a sit com so accurately deliver the stench of failed jokes. Gervais’ demeanor and body language made my jaw drop.

Common network wisdom, as I had come to know it in my sitcom writing attempts, in OUR country, was that this could never be. I had always longed to write an awful person at the center of a show. It was never a possibility. Network guys all felt the center of a sitcom had to be lovable. So I was riveted, from episode one on, by everything about David Brent.

I have always admired and flat out envied the BBC’s system of only doing six episodes of a series per year. If only they would allow that to happen here, what a brighter TV world it would be.


Nell Scovell (Creator/Writer: Sabrina, The Teenage WitchThe Simpsons): For overall brilliance, nothing beats “Absolutely Fabulous.” It has everything: brilliant characters, brilliant situations, brilliant sight gags, brilliant lines, Jennifer Saunders is an absolute genius. And if I had to pick ONE moment above all, I’d go with a scene where Edina greets Saffy on the morning of her wedding day. Edina tiptoes into the room and sweetly hugs her daughter…only to hold her down so Patsy can rush in with a wax strip and remove the facial hair from Saffy’s upper lip. It’s perfect. You really believe for a moment that Edina’s maternal instincts are kicking in, and then, in her own twisted way, they do. She waxes Saffy upper lip because she cares.

Stephen Root (Actor: King of the HillNews RadioOffice Space): The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended with a perfect ensemble moment from the perfect ensemble cast – people I admired then and now. They’re all hugging and crying in one big group. When Mary says she needs a tissue, the entire group hug shuffle-walks over to the desk to grab her one. It’s certainly not the funniest moment of the series, but it speaks to how much of a unit that exceptional group of actors was.

For me it resonated because it was the same type of farce I was doing on stage every night but in the original form, a Shakespeare comedy. The second paying gig I’d had as a “real” actor was with the National Shakespeare Company. We spent nine months of the year on the road playing at military bases and colleges all over the country. I must have watched the finale of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in some dumpy Motel 6 in anywhere USA.

As a character guy then, I remember wanting a chance to be an “Ed Asner” type. That kind of came true for me as Jimmy James on NewsRadio: I got to play some of the same varied emotions: explosive frustration, throw-away asides and the father’s joy of his “children”, his team, his friends. Encapsulated, I think, in one phrase, “I cherish you people.”

More to come…

Dusting Off: The Sitcom Theme Song

Ah, those were the days. Archie and Edith agreeing in song, “Gee, our old LaSalle ran great.” The All in the Family theme song — she wailing, he demonizing “the welfare state,” — had as much to do with setting the voice and tone of the working-class show as Meathead, George Jefferson and anti-Semitism.

That’s because sitcom theme songs used to be epic.

They contained second verses, pre-choruses, wholly unnecessary transitional bridges and a cappella clap breaks — seemingly none of which played with a great deal of urgency, at least when compared to the frantic, auctioneer-like cadences of theme songs today.

Seinfeld was the first to do away with the theme song altogether, favoring a series of bass slaps, tongue pops and guttural hiccups.

A couple years ago, I organized my favorites into eight categories: Expositional Ditties, Anthems, Liberated Women, The Jazz Age, Caucasian Sap, Funk Brothers, The Thinkers, Optimistic Groovers and, finally, The Bummers.

Did I miss any?

EXPOSITIONAL DITTIES Gilligan’s Island (above) The Brady Bunch Arrested DevelopmentThe Fresh Prince of Bel-Air The Beverly Hillbillies The Flintstones The Jetsons The Odd Couple

ANTHEMS Perfect Strangers (above) The Office (BBC) The Bob Newhart Show The Mary Tyler Moore Show Angry Boys Summer Heights High

LIBERATED WOMEN Alice (above) Laverne & Shirley Kate & Allie Gimme a Break!

THE JAZZ AGE The Cosby Show (above) Everybody Loves Raymond Frasier

CAUCASIAN SAP The Golden Girls (above) Cheers Silver Spoons Friends Punky Brewster The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (Sung by Harry Nilsson, incidentally.)


UPDATE: On January 15 2016, Richard Morgan publically rebuked my findings on Facebook.

Richard Morgan how dare you ignore DuckTales
Richard Morgan yes of course also:

Charles in Charge
GI Joe
Small Wonder
Growing Pains
Silver Spoons
Happy Days
The Love Boat
Knight Rider
LA Law
Doogie Howser MD
Full House
Gummy Bears
Going Places
Marblehead Manor

C. Brian Smith  What the fuck is this Richard.

Richard Morgan it’s a grand life! was that not clear? also:

The Charmings
In Living Color
The Facts of Life
Welcome Back, Cotter
The Head of the Class
Are You Being Served?
A Different World
Hi Honey, I’m Home
Sesame Street
Square One
Danger Mouse
Empty Nest

Out of This World
Batman the animated series
Too Close For Comfort
…ok, gotta have breakfast


—C.B.S (via UrbanDaddy) (via C.B.S.)


Great Moments In Sitcom History — PART 3 

Some of the most iconic moments in sitcom history were the result of delightful accidents and fortuitous blunders… 

Greg Malins (Head Writer: Friends): On the fourth season of Friends, we knew that Ross was going to marry that British girl Emily in the season finale, but we had no idea how it was going to end. Should Rachel stop the wedding? Should he stop it? Should Chandler and Joey talk him out of it? We were filming an episode a few weeks before and Ross had a scene where he was supposed to come into the apartment and say something like, “The cab is waiting downstairs, Emily.” But David mistakenly said, “The cab is waiting downstairs, Rachel.” I realized that’s what should happen in the finale: Ross should mistakenly say, “I take thee, Rachel” instead of “Emily.”

Claudia Lonow (Writer/Creator: Rude AwakeningAccidentally on Purpose): It was the best modern season ending, ever. I was with my stepdaughter when I saw it for the first time and we both went, “Oh, shit!”

Greg Malins: It turned out to be a pretty cool moment that people seemed to really like and remember. I like that story because the answer to our problem didn’t come from hours of hard work racking our brains—it came from something as simple as David Schwimmer flubbing a line. I wish it were always that easy.

Accidental good fortune also resulted in one of the longest laughs ever recorded in a situational comedy. But as writer Jay Kogen (The Simpsons, Frasier, Malcolm in the Middle) explains, good fortune in a sitcom is only as good as the strength of its characters— and the actors portraying those characters.

Jay Kogen: I’m not sure if this counts as the greatest moment in sitcom history because it was on the radio, but it’s the greatest moment in program history. On The Jack Benny Program, Benny’s character was insanely, hilariously cheap. When a robber comes up to him and says, “Your money or your life!” the audience roars with laughter before Benny even says a word. Then the robber says, “Look, bud, I said your money or your life!” And Benny says, “I’m thinking it over.”

The genius of this moment is that it can only come from a show that you’ve established all this information over the course of years. We know Benny. So nothing needs to be explained. That’s perfection. When I have written moments on shows like Frasier and The Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle where a look says more and gets a bigger laugh than words ever could, I tip my hat in gratitude to “Your money or your life.”

But as George Balzer explains, the punch line was, essentially, an accident.

George Balzer (Writer: The Jack Benny Program): John Tackaberry and Milt Josefsberg [Jack Benny writers] came to a point where they had the line, “Your money or your life.” And that stopped them. Milt was pacing up and down, trying to get a follow. And he got a little peeved at Tack, and he said, “For God’s sakes, Tack, say something.” Tack, maybe he was half asleep—in defense of himself, says, “I’m thinking it over.” And Milt says, “Wait a minute. That’s it.” And that’s the line that went in the script. [via The Laugh Crafters: Comedy Writing in Radio and TV’s Golden Age]

The final scene of my favorite Seinfeld episode was also a product of fortuitous blunder.

After miserably walking around a parking lot for hours in search of a car, when they finally got in, it wouldn’t start: a perfect, accidental blow that embodied everything magical about the series.

—C.B.S. (via UrbanDaddy) (via C.B.S.)

More to come this weekend.


The Newhart Finale

 A 20 Year Callback

The Bob Newhart Show ran from 1972 to 1978 and featured Bob Newhart as a Chicago psychiatrist named Robert Hartley. 

Newhart, on the other hand, ran from 1982 to 1990 and featured Bob Newhart as an author named Dick Loudon who owned and operated The Stratford Inn Vermont.



In the final episode of Newhart, a Japanese firm buys up all the land in the town to build a golf course. After being knocked out by a stray golf ball, the scene cuts to a darkened bedroom: Bob Hartley’s bedroom from The Bob Newhart Show, where we learn that the entire Newhart series was all a dream.

Wayne Federman (Actor/Writer: Curb Your EnthusiasmLate Night with Jimmy Fallon): It was a superb gag that was 18 years in the making. Nothing else is even close in my book. (By the way, my “book” is currently out of print.)

Bob Newhart (Actor/Comedian, The Bob Newhart ShowNewhart): We were apprehensive. We didn’t know how it would be received because St. Elsewhere had been received negatively—people said, “We devoted all this time to this show and cared about these people and now you’re telling us it’s a dream?”

David Pressman: I had the honor of being on the last episode of Newhart, playing Mr. Rusnak, the town’s racist shoe salesman. To this day, that was the best job I’ve ever had. Anyway, I didn’t know the big reveal of it all being a dream until tape night. Don’t remember how they kept it a secret, but they did.

Bob Newhart: No one knew.

JJ Wall (Writer/Comedian): I did the warm-up for the Newhart finale. I was specifically positioned to keep the studio audience looking away from where the old bedroom set was. Their reaction, when they realized what was going on, was phenomenal. Never heard anything like it. Felt a little bad for Mary Frann (Bob’sT.V.wife on Newhart), as, no one had ever told her what was going on. A great moment to be a part of.

Bob Newhart: That scene never appeared in a script, because we knew the tabloids would get ahold of it. I told some of the cast that morning. Later on, when the crew came back from dinner I said, “We’ve added a scene. Camera ‘A’ goes here, camera ‘B’ goes here, ‘C’ goes there, and when we pull the floater which hides the set from the audience, just start your cameras and keep shooting, no matter what happens.”

Nell Scovell: My first sitcom job was on the last season of Newhart, so I was there and got to stand in The Bob Newhart Show bedroom set. I’d watched that show as a kid so it was a very strange feeling. Like I’d ventured through the looking glass.

TV GUIDE named it “The Most Unexpected Moment in TV History”—including sporting events.


Bob Newhart: We brought Suzie [Suzanne Pleshette, who played Bob’s wife in The Bob Newhart Show] in from two sound stages over and snuck her into the bed. When they pulled the floater away, the audience recognized the bedroom set and started applauding even before they saw Suzie or me. We were apprehensive, but when we got the audience reaction we said, “That’s it.”

—C.B.S. (via UrbanDaddy) (via C.B.S.)

More to come…

Sitcom Writers on Favorite Sitcom Moments

The “sitcom moment” — Sam proposing to Diane on the boat, Seinfeld’s “Master of Your Domain,” Lucy at the chocolate factory — has died.

In memoriam, a couple years ago I asked some of the most respected sitcom writers and actors in the world whose e-mail addresses I had  to pick their favorite moment in sitcom history.

What’s yours? Let’s let this premium Wordpress comment feature sing…


Phil Rosenthal (Creator/Writer: Everybody Loves Raymond): One moment? That’s impossible.

Jonathan Schmock (Writer/Director: Real Time with Bill Maher): There are so many.

Eric Gilliland (Writer/Executive Producer: Roseanne): By asking me to choose only one moment, you do realize you’re asking me to ignore “Vitameatavegamin.”

Nell Scovell (Creator/Writer: Sabrina, The Teenage Witch;The Simpsons): And the life raft inflating in the Petrie living room on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Greg Malins (Writer/Executive Producer: FriendsWill & Grace): It’s hard to pick one moment because I watched so many sitcoms growing up, they’ve all kind of melded in my brain into one giant episode. Like, The Brady Brunch goes to Hawaii where Mallory has to confront a teacher who touched her inappropriately played by Mork’s son, Jonathan Winters who lived in an egg. Willis tried tried to tell his brother about it but he didn’t understand what he was talking about then Newhart woke up and it was a dream. Then at the end Ted Danson pulled off his wig and it gave me nightmares about going bald.

Phil Rosenthal: Every moment with my family on Raymond was a gift. Here’s one off the top of my head. MARIE: Don’t you tell me to be quiet. I have a mind of my own, you know, I can contribute. I’m not just some trophy wife. FRANK: You’re a trophy wife? What contest in hell did I win?

Eric Gilliland: There’s Rhoda’s Wedding…

Nell Scovell: And the substitute teacher (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) handing Lisa Simpson a note that read simply: “You are Lisa Simpson.”

Claudia Lonow (Writer/Creator: Rude AwakeningAccidentally on Purpose): And Mork’s first appearance on Happy Days. But maybe that’s just because Robin Williams had been sleeping on my floor for a month.

Jay Kogen: I’m not sure if this counts as the greatest moment in sitcom history because it was on the radio, but it’s the greatest moment in program history. On The Jack Benny Program, Benny’s character was insanely, hilariously cheap. When a robber comes up to him and says, “Your money or your life!” the audience roars with laughter before Benny even says a word. Then the robber says, “Look, bud, I said your money or your life!” And Benny says, “I’m thinking it over.”

The genius of this moment is that it can only come from a show that you’ve established all this information over the course of years. We know Benny. So nothing needs to be explained. That’s perfection. When I have written moments on shows like Frasier and The Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle where a look says more and gets a bigger laugh than words ever could, I tip my hat in gratitude to “Your money or your life.”

Stephen Root (Actor: King of the HillNews RadioOffice Space): And Sammy Davis Jr. kissing Archie Bunker.

Claudia Lonow: And when Phyllis suspects Mary Tyler Moore of sleeping with Lars and says: “Did you know Lars has a pathological fear of getting hair stuck in his throat?”

Merrill Markoe (Writer/Creator: Late Night with David Letterman): On The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Burns played a guy who had a show. When he wanted to find out how the rest of the plot was progressing with his wife Gracie in the scenes he wasn’t in, he’d go upstairs, turn on the TV and watch his own show: Gracie, plotting behind his back with other characters. That double-edged surrealism so killed me that I kind of tuned out sitcoms for a long time afterward.

Nell Scovell: There’s Taxi when Alex opens the door for Death (a Girl Scout).

Stephen Root: And Opie shooting a bird with a slingshot and raising the baby birds on The Andy Griffith Show.

Eric Gilliland: …and Roseanne, Dan and Jackie getting stoned in the bathroom.


Jim Vallely (Writer: Arrested DevelopmentThe Golden Girls): I was sick when I was a kid and got to stay home for a year, which is the first time I saw Bilko in reruns. It was also the first time I laughed at an “adult” show. (Actually, it was the first time I laughed at any show except for Bugs Bunny).

There’s an episode where Bilko accidently inducts a monkey into the army. After they’ve learned they’ve inducted a monkey, they decide that the only way to get the monkey out of the army is to court martial him. Bilko defends the monkey (because even a monkey needs a lawyer at a court martial) and of course, the monkey (not the best trained one) goes off his mark and the brilliant Phil Silvers does some of the best ad-libbing in television history. It’s almost sixty years old, and I saw it recently and it made me laugh just as hard as it did forty or so years ago, which makes me either a very mature 12 year old or a very immature 56 year old.

Kevin Rooney (Retired Comedian/Writer): I don’t know what these people are talking about. My favorite moments of sitcoms I worked on (all bad) all concern personal interactions with other writers and staff in the writing room.

Kevin RooneyKevin Rooney, Retired Comedian/Writer

Jonathan Schmock: Those types of moments are not to be shared with “civilians.” Sorry. I don’t know if winemakers save the best, most complex wine for themselves, but sitcom writers do. They come in a flash and are gone, unexplainable.

Kevin Biggins (Writer: The Cleveland ShowTosh.O): The jokes that don’t make it into scripts are often the funniest. Dirty stuff. Sometimes sexist. Mostly racist.

Kevin Rooney: …but the shows themselves and the scripts we were working on? No moment stands out as funny or interesting. Nothing. Junk. Distractions used to sell soap.

Laraine Newman (Actor, Saturday Night Live): Although I suppose SCTV can’t be classified as a sitcom, this sketch absolutely blew me away. I Cry Each Day I Die was a soap opera setting that kept changing reality with a consistent cast of characters. You thought you were seeing a screen test at first but then the ingénue who seems to have gotten the part (Kathrine O’Hara) stands up, goes over to her director and has an argument with him as if she’s been doing the show for years. They yell “cut’ as if that were a scene, then another scene commences and so on and so on. A show within a show within a show. The thru line is Andrea Martin as the alcoholic actress saying the last line of each scene. So if the last line was “Wasn’t she good?” Andrea would say “Sure…I was good once” Then she throws back her flask and sucks on it. IF the line were, “Wasn’t that funny?” She’d say “Yeah… I was funny once.” Flask.

I was on Saturday Night Live at the time and with all due respect to our brilliant writers I felt that we never really touched the edginess of SCTV’s style. What was exceptional about that moment for me was understanding the tone being set by Canadian sensibilities. The entire cast wasn’t Canadian but the show was idiosyncratic and personal — so different from anything that could be seen in America. It’s no wonder it was assimilated so quickly.

David Pressman (Actor/Comedian: NewhartMr. Sunshine): I loved the “very special” episodes. Like when Gary Coleman was molested by a photographer (Gordon Jump) on Diff’rent Strokes. Or in Growing Pains when Tracey Gold’s boyfriend (Matthew Perry) drives drunk and dies. Good Times seemed to have a “very special” episode every other week.

But my personal favorite was when Edith was raped on All in the Family.


More on this tomorrow…

Dusting Off: The Stylish Fallout Shelter


On October 6, 1961, President Kennedy directed American families to begin building bomb shelters to protect them from atomic fallout in the event of a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. We now know that digging a 10-foot hole in your backyard and stocking it with two weeks’ worth of Spam will not, in fact, save a family of four in the event of a nuclear holocaust.

But that’s no reason to ditch the concept altogether…


Think of it as an investment in the psychosomatic well-being of yourself and the people you love. Errant coastal tornadoes aren’t a thing now, but if that ever changes, you’ll be prepared.

In the meantime, your bucket list has a soundproof playground. No one wants to listen to you realize your dream of fronting a Black Sabbath cover band. But that’s no reason to ditch the concept altogether.


Bomb shelters won’t protect you from bombs, but they make adultery a lot less tricky.


So go ahead and dust off those fallout shelters, ladies and gentlemen…


…because everything feels slightly better for a while when we convince ourselves that nothing is wrong.



—C.B.S. (via UrbanDaddy) (via C.B.S.)

The Most Intimidating Men Since LBJ

As I mentioned Sunday, Lyndon Johnson was one of the greatest intimidators of all time. It was known as the Johnson Treatment: unrelenting mental and physical intimidation by any means necessary. Here are some other Treatments…


The SUGE KNIGHT Treatment: Presently standing a murder trial for running over two men in a parking lot in Compton in 2015, took on leadership role as Bobby Brown’s muscle by employing negotiation tactics involving lead pipes, baseball bats and dangling Vanilla Ice off a 20th-story balcony until he signed away all publishing rights to “Ice Ice Baby,” having sampled music from Knight’s label without his permission.

The BOB GIBSON Treatment: Holstered a dozen or so pitches whose singular purpose was to intimidate batters crowding the plate. Among them were “two different fastballs, a couple sliders, a curve, a change-up, a hit-batsman, a brush-back and a knockdown.”

The MIKE TYSON Treatment: “From the moment I step in the ring, I never take my eyes off of my opponent. I keep my eyes on him, I keep my eyes on him, I keep my eyes on him. And once I see a chink in his honor—one of his eyes move just a little—then I know I have him. Even when he gives me that piercing look again in the center of the ring, he already made that mistake—he looked down for one tenth of a second, which means he’ll fight hard for the first two or three rounds, but I know I already broke his spirit.”

The BOBBY KNIGHT Treatment: Choked Indiana University’s communications director after a negative press release; assaulted a Puerto Rican police officer while coaching Pan American Games in San Juan; threw a chair across the court to protest a referee’s call during game; told Connie Chung, “I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it”; choked, punched and mock-bullwhipped Indiana players Michael Prince, Neil Reed and Calbert Cheaney, respectively; threw a potted plant at a female secretary; attacked assistant coach Ron Felling by throwing him out of a chair after overhearing him criticizing the basketball program in a phone conversation; fired a shotgun in the direction of James Simpson after he asked Knight to stop hunting too close to his home; bid farewell to an Indiana University crowd by saying, “When my time on earth is gone and my activities here are passed, I want them to bury me upside down and my critics can kiss my ass.

The DONALD TRUMP Treatment: Why does Trump intimidate? To win. Jeb Bush has nightmares about Donald Trump, despite shaking his fists and declaring, adorably, how much he just HATES THAT BULLY!!

The JACK LAMBERT Treatment: Have a look.



The Johnson Treatment



(clockwise) w/ Theodore F. Green, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 1957; w/ Abe Fortas, associate justice to the Supreme Court, 1965; w/ Senator Richard Russell, 1963; w/ civil rights leader Whitney Young; w/ President John F. Kennedy; w/ Irish president Éamon de Valera, 1965


WHILE campaigning in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered a Secret Service agent to stand in front of him so that he could urinate on the sidewalk. After a few seconds, the agent said, “Sir, you’re pissing on my leg,” to which Johnson matter-of-factly responded:

“That’s all right, son. That’s my prerogative.”

It was known as “The Johnson Treatment” — unrelenting mental and physical intimidation by any means necessary. And the 6’3″, 250-pound president had plenty of means…



LBJ & President-elect Nixon taking the elevator to the family quarters of the White House, 1968.

Johnson once conducted an interview while driving a group of journalists down a steep incline toward a lake, yelling, “The brakes don’t work! We’re going in! We’re going under!” As the car splashed into the lake, the journalists screamed in horror—and Johnson doubled over, laughing. They were riding in an amphibious vehicle.

These days, employing the Johnson Treatment will, at best, land you in an unscheduled—and awkward—meeting with human resources. For example, LBJ often called staffers into the Oval Office bathroom for nearly an hour to take dictation while he sat on the toilet.

As former New York Times White House correspondent Tom Wicker recalls of his first interview with the new president…

He was having his hair cut and just stared at me from under heavy, lowered brows, across the sheet littered with his hair clippings. I shuffled from one foot to another; still he said nothing, nor did he even move, as the seconds came to seem minutes, then hours…I was quickly intimidated, unnerved, reduced to a sort of nothingness by those unblinking eyes, that jowly familiar face turned implacable, that motionless form under the barber sheet, the brooding silence in which I was being regarded, or perhaps measured. I shuffled and writhed. He still said nothing.

Finally I knew I was beaten, and to my shame I mumbled some banality about the nation’s good fortune in having such a man to take over. Only then, as if just noticing my presence, he whipped off the barber sheet, stood up and spoke, as if those interminable moments had never happened. Forty years later, whenever I remember that first interview with a new president, I still feel diminished by my small experience of the Johnson Treatment.


TUESDAY: The 10 Most Intimidating American Men Since LBJ

Extraordinary Moments in SOUL TRAIN History


Four years ago today, Don Cornelius, the beloved host and creator of Soul Train, chose the Gunter Sachs method of treating Alzheimer’s disease: he shot himself in the head.

While terribly sad, it’s not at all surprising that men like Cornelius and Sachs — both unceasingly proud and dignified individuals who lived fairy-tale lives — opted to stare down the barrel of a shotgun rather than the dim, tapering tunnel of dementia.

Many under the age of 30 have likely never heard of Mr. Cornelius, since his 25-year tenure as tour guide on “The Hippest Trip in America” ended in 1993. But any fans of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Gladys Knight, Run-DMC or countless other artists whose careers began on Soul Train Line should throw some respect to Don Cornelius.

Here are three of the most extraordinary moments in Soul Train history, via UrbanDaddy