During Jeopardy! last week, I correctly identified the Mary Tyler Moore statue erected in Minneapolis almost 20 years ago. The bronze figure memorializes MTM’s fictional newsroom character flinging her hat into the air – the iconic opening to the iconic 1970s sitcom.
That memory led to others, and soon an entire collage of TV introductory scenes emerged: the Brady kids in their blended family grid; Mister Rogers donning his sweater and gym shoes; Marshal Matt Dillon’s Saturday night shoot-out; the cast of Friends dancing around a couch moved outdoors next to a fountain; strains of the “William Tell Overture” accompanying the Lone Ranger’s shout of “Hi Ho, Silver!”; Buffalo Bob and the kids in the peanut gallery singing “It’s Howdy Doody Time!”
Suddenly, however, I knew that I would rather write about show closings and in mere minutes had jotted a list of memorable endings, conclusions, final scenes, and sign offs from TV-Land.
Perhaps recognizable to several generations of viewers would be the “Good night, Mama/good night, Elizabeth/good night, Daddy/good night, John-Boy” sequence that closed each episode of The Waltons in the 70s. Series creator Earl Hamner Jr. specifically based the final scene on his family’s tradition. John-Boy portrayer, Richard Thomas, doubted that family members could have actually heard each other until he visited Hamner’s boyhood home to realize just how tiny the “cracker box” house really was.
Variety shows have always naturally lent themselves to recurring closings, wrap-up sequences after a smorgasbord of skits and musical numbers. Back in the 1950s many radio performers, including Jimmy Durante, transitioned to television. I vaguely recall the former vaudevillian singing “Inka Dinka Doo” and referring to his sizeable nose as a schnozzola. Clearly etched in my mind, however, is his farewell line: “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are,” followed by his stroll through several pools of spotlight glow where he paused to doff his hat.
And who can forget Carol Burnett’s final scene each week? Sometimes dressed as a cleaning lady sitting on her mop bucket, other times attired in a lovely evening gown as the talented performer she was, she sang: “I’m so glad we had this time together,” written for her by husband Joe Hamilton. To conclude, she tugged her left earlobe, sending a message of love and well-being to her beloved grandmother.
My choice for favorite variety show closing surprises even me, however. The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour debuted in the summer of 1971. Fresh from college, I enjoyed the show’s cool vibe, hip music, amusing comedy sketches, Bob Mackie gowns – it was fun, and lots of us tuned in each week to view a modernized version of the variety show genre. Its perfect ending featured the pop duo’s rendition of “I Got You, Babe” with Cher flipping her long, dark hair and tiny daughter Chastity perched in the arms of one of her parents. It was the 70s – and I loved it.
Many of today’s news anchors – and those trying to pass for news anchors – have developed cleverish openings and closings. Somehow, none of their salutations or sign offs are particularly memorable. In fact, I cannot call a single one to mind.
But I have high expectations. I recall the early years of the original TODAY show in the 1950s, fascinated as I was with an entire row of clocks displaying the current time all across the country. The morning show’s first anchor/host Dave Garroway, dapper and scholarly in his bowties and horn-rimmed glasses, regularly signed off by raising his hand, palm forward, and intoning “Peace.”
And while Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC were bidding farewell to each other at the end of their evening newscast, over on CBS Walter Cronkite took a different approach. Setting a journalistic standard seldom if ever reached in this century, the respected broadcaster, often referred to as the “most trusted man in America,” closed by saying: “And that’s the way it is” plus the date. By the way, beginning on Day 50 of the hostage situation in Iran, each night he added the enumerated day of the crisis until it ended on the 444th day.
It is almost time for me to sign off now, but not before I share two other closing sequences, musical in form and probably my favorites. One came from The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show when I was a kid. After some cowboy episode involving Trigger, bad guys, and sidekick Pat Brady, the title stars sang: “Happy trails to you/Until we meet again.” That song WAS Sunday night for me.
The other closing came from the original Mickey Mouse Club, the one with Bobby Burgess and Annette Funicello. Whether it was “Fun with Music Day” or “Anything Can Happen Day,” each episode ended with the Mouseketeers gathered to sing a slower version of the opening animated number, referred to as the “Mickey Mouse Club Alma Mater.” Sporting the ears practically every kid in America wanted, they sang – almost poignantly: “Now it’s time to say goodbye to all our company/M-I-C, see you real soon/K-E-Y, Why?/Because we like you/M-O-U-S-E.”
Finally, how would we Boomers have known that TV programming had concluded for the day without “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the test pattern with the Indian Chief used to calibrate facets of black-and-white broadcasting? The most iconic sign off of all!
Folks, it’s time for my own final scene: That’s a wrap!