and The Dean Martin Show, wrote a lot of the
Rowan and Martin segments.
Another appeal of Laugh-In was its unpredictability. At one point we said, “We’ll be right
back,” dipped to black, returned instantly, and
declared, “See, we told you we’d be right back.”
Every television cliché became fodder for us.
In 1968 we did not have the technical facilities that are available today. Our content was
lightning fast, from a few seconds to a few minutes apiece, and many times we worked late into
the night to get the vast amount of material
needed for each show. But there was no time
code for synchronization, so the tape had to be
physically spiced together. The editing techniques developed by Carolyn Raskin and Art
Schneider for Laugh-In are still widely used.
“Easy for you to say” — Rowan to
Martin when the latter flubbed a line
Because of my earlier experience in nightclubs and then in television producing
The Dinah Shore Chevy Show and The Judy Garland Show as well as other programs, I knew
most of the comedians and comedy actors in
the funny business and many singers and other
celebrities. I convinced them to just “fall by” the
studio and read one-liners. They could not believe their guest appearances many times were
less than two dozen words, but they loved the
freedom in subject matter, style and language.
For instance, Peter Lawford said at the cocktail
party, “I hear Gov. Reagan is really worried
about earthquakes in California. He’s afraid
Berkeley may shift even further to the left.”
Sally Field, zinging her Flying Nun fame and the
high times, flaunted a go-go outfit, stood next to
Gibson’s priest at the cocktail party, and spoke
into a clutched phone, “Reverend Mother, get
over here quickly. There’s a bunch of people
here and they’re all flying.”
I remember fondly actors like Edward G.
Robinson and Greer Garson appearing
as part of the tongue twister spewing
“Farkel Family” (say that a few times
fast), other show business legends like
Orson Welles and Jack Benny playing
along, and unusual guest stars such as
Truman Capote and the Rev. Billy Gra-
ham, who observed, “I know that there
are millions of good people watching
Laugh-In tonight. And I want to remind all
of you that the family that watches Laugh-In
together really needs to pray together.”
John Wayne became a semi-regular. He even
recited a Gibson-like poem, “The Sky”: “The
sky is blue. / The grass is green. / Get off your
butt. / And join the Marines.” The flower in
hand was red, white and blue. But for one ap-
pearance he protested, “No, I’m not going to do
that anymore. Last time I was on, they put me
in a bunny suit. I’m not going on that show!” So
we ran that as his clip.
Perhaps our most famous guest star was Richard Nixon in September 1968. Keyes, a good
friend of and joke writer for him, convinced the
presidential candidate, who battled an image of
being stiff and lacking a sense of humor, to
come on and ask, “Sock it to me?” Ensemble
member Judy Carne got that line most often, uttering it as a dare and then getting drenched
with water or hit with a prop or some such, but
we didn’t wham Nixon. Because of the equal-time rule, we had to get permission from Congress for an “unusual circumstance” in which a
political candidate could make an appearance so
long as it was comedic, nonpolitical and less
than 30 seconds. Nixon’s main opponent, Hubert Humphrey, declined our repeated invitations. Many people credited Laugh-In for having
elected Nixon. I, of course, have had to live with
those four seconds ever since.
“And that’s the truth” — Tomlin’s
At one point, Laugh-In earned a 50 share,
among the biggest ratings ever in television. One
reason was that it offered a feel-good experience
that also captured the mood of the times. Laugh-In
made people laugh when they needed to while
providing an irreverent look at society and culture.
Yet in the beginning some people did not
know what to expect or how to take the show.
Our third week we were cancelled in Seattle.
The network, frightened, wanted to know how I
would handle this. I said we were putting a
troupe on a plane to do a tribute to Seattle for
having the good taste to cancel us. While our
crew was on the way to the airport, the Seattle
affiliate called to say it was putting the show
back on the air.
I don’t believe there has ever been a show that
had as large a cast of divergent performers and
writers who enjoyed the process as much as we
did. True, we endured a live-in censor because
NBC was not too sure of the meaning behind
much of our material. But the network
that Laugh-In was sexy
but not sexist, bawdy but
never dirty, and provocative but
not ever obscene.
Part of the success of Laugh-In was that it appealed to different age groups. Little children
saw the bright colors and the pratfalls and the
sight gags. High school students became aware
that there was some very provocative material,
even though they didn’t understand all of it.
College students grasped the political signifi-
cance of what we were saying. And older people
looked at Hawn in a bikini and heard her make
delightful mistakes and thought, “Isn’t this fun?”
Yes, it was fun. It was hard work but one of
the most gratifying experiences of my life, and I
was glad to have been part of it. As Martin
would say, “You bet your sweet bippy.”
George Schlatter also created and was the executive
producer of the American Comedy Awards and Real People,
among other TV shows. He produced the first five Grammy
Awards telecasts and series and specials starring the likes of
Richard Pryor, Jonathan Winters, Bill Cosby, Danny Thomas
and Victor Borge, and Frank Sinatra, Cher, Doris Day, Shirley
MacLaine, Diana Ross and John Denver. Schlatter additionally
produced Sammy Davis, Jr.’s 60th Anniversary Celebration,
Muhammad Ali’s 50th and All-Star 60th Birthday Celebrations,
American Film Institute Life Achievement Award Tributes to
Dustin Hoffman and Harrison Ford, the 18th annual People’s
Choice Awards, and the 25th Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy
Association Labor Day Telethon, and directed the 2001
inaugural opening ceremonies of President George W. Bush.
A writer on numerous of the above projects, Schlatter has
won every major TV award in his categories, received a star
on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and earned lifetime honors
from both the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and
the Museum of Television and Radio. Before forming George
Schlatter Productions in 1968, he held multiple positions at
MCA Records and was the booking manager at the Sunset
Strip nightclub Ciro’s.
Sammy Davis, Jr.
cracks up Schlatter
in one of several
cameos over the
years. Right: the
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on a bit.
Schlatter consults with movie star Kirk Douglas on
a guest appearance.