April 12th in history:
A man moved around the Earth in a space capsule for the first time on April 12th, 1961, when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was launched into orbit.
Two accidents involving Soviet submarines have happened on April 12th. In 1970, the submarine K-8 sank while being towed in the North Atlantic after a fire. Fifty-two men died when the sub went down with nuclear torpedoes aboard. On April 12th of 1963, the nuclear sub K-33 collided with a Finnish merchant ship. The accident was kept a secret for 44 years.
“The Hunt for Red October,” partly set aboard a Soviet sub, was the first successful novel by author Tom Clancy, born on this date in 1947.
Clancy once appeared as a guest on NBC’s “Late Night” show, but not during David Letterman’s time as the show’s host. Letterman was born the same day and year as Clancy. He was the original host of “Late Night,” from 1982 until 1993, when he moved to CBS and renamed his program “The Late Show.” Letterman retired from the show in 2015, and was succeeded by Stephen Colbert.
Yet another man born on April 12th, 1947, is actor Dan Lauria, who played Jack Arnold, Kevin’s dad, on “The Wonder Years.” Letterman left NBC the same year that “The Wonder Years” ended its run on ABC.
February 22nd in history:
Another legendary sports event happened on this date in 1980: the “Miracle on Ice,” in which the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team surprised the world by beating the Soviets, 4-3, in the semi-final round of the Winter Games. The Americans went on to win the gold against Finland in the games at Lake Placid, New York.
Actor Kirk Douglas once served as royalty at a winter carnival in Lake Placid. During the week of the Miracle on Ice game, Douglas was hosting “Saturday Night Live” in New York, featuring NBC announcer Don Pardo, born on this day in 1918. Until his death in 2014, Pardo had been the SNL announcer for most of the show’s run. Pardo also worked on the original versions of “Jeopardy” and “The Price is Right,” and broke the news of President Kennedy’s assassination on WNBC-TV in New York in 1963.
David Letterman was getting ready to move his talk show from NBC to CBS when it was announced on February 22nd, 1993 that CBS had bought the Ed Sullivan Theater, to keep Letterman’s show in New York.
On this day in 1964, the Beatles returned to England after their famous first visit to the U.S., which included three straight appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The band had pre-recorded its performance which would be seen on “Sullivan” the next night.
January 22nd in history:
From “beautiful downtown Burbank,” the first episode of “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in” aired on NBC on January 22, 1968. The fast-paced mix of one-liners, slapstick and political humor lasted five-and-a-half years, making stars of Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin, and inspiring the even longer-lasting imitator, “Hee Haw.”
An early feature of “Laugh-In” was “Sock It to Me Time.” The night of January 22nd, 1973, was “Sock It to Me Time” for heavyweight boxing champ Joe Frazier, as he was knocked down repeatedly by George Foreman in a title fight in Jamaica. Foreman won the championship when the fight was stopped in the second round.
Foreman is best known today for selling the George Foreman Grill on TV. Hosts of popular food shows on TV who were born on January 22 include Graham Kerr, the Galloping Gourmet (1934), Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet (1939), and Food Network personality Guy Fieri (1968).
December 28 in history:
Galileo is thought to be the first person to have seen the planet Neptune, observing it through his telescope on December 28th, 1612. But he is not considered the discoverer of Neptune, because he reportedly thought it was a star, instead of a planet.
An audience in Paris saw movies on December 28th, 1895, and became the first people to pay admission to watch films. The Lumiere brothers sold tickets to a screening of scenes from everyday life in France. We don’t know if they sold popcorn for the occasion.
Another type of image seen on a screen was publicized on that same day in 1895. That’s when German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen published a paper “On a New Kind of Rays,” where he described the discovery of a form of light which could pass through skin but not bones. The new ray became known as an X-ray.
The X-ray is radiation, but it’s not considered radioactive. So if a spider zapped by an X-ray bit you, chances are you would not develop spider powers…as far as we know. The comic book writer who created Spider-Man and other Marvel comics, Stan Lee, was born on December 28th, 1922.
A special 2009 edition of the Spider-Man comic book, called “The Short Halloween,” was written by “Saturday Night Live” veterans Seth Meyers and Bill Hader. Meyers, born on this day in 1973, was best known for anchoring “Weekend Update” on SNL before succeeding Jimmy Fallon as the host of “Late Night” on NBC in 2014.
November 17 in history:
Television history was made on this day in 1968, when a Sunday afternoon game between the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders was running long. NBC was contracted to broadcast a new version of “Heidi,” sponsored by Timex watches, precisely at 7 p.m. Eastern time that night, whether the game was over or not. A last-minute network decision to delay “Heidi” until after the game did not get to the right people, and the football broadcast for most of the U.S. was cut off with one minute left to play, and the Jets ahead by three points. The game ended with two quick touchdowns by the Raiders, who won by a score of 43-32. The fan uproar that resulted led to the now-common practice of delaying all regular programming on the networks rather than disrupting football games in progress.
President Richard Nixon made history on live television by stating “I’m not a crook” during a broadcast news conference on November 17th, 1973. The question-and-answer session was part of an Associated Press meeting at Disney World, in the middle of the Watergate scandal. Nixon made the “crook” remark while telling the reporters that he had never profited from his years of public service.
The Nixon news conference was aired live on network TV on a Saturday night. The producer of “Saturday Night Live,” Lorne Michaels, was born on this day in 1944…the same day and year as frequent SNL host Danny De Vito, known for the TV series “Taxi” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
TV coverage of a concession speech by Howard Dean has been blamed for costing him the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. Dean was portrayed as being too emotional and out of control when he shouted to supporters after losing the Iowa caucuses. Dean, a former governor of Vermont, was born on November 17th, 1948.
John Boehner has never run for president, but he was third in line for the Oval Office as Speaker of the House. The Ohio Republican was born on this date in 1949.
November 8 in history:
Two Roosevelts were elected president on November 8th — 28 years apart. The first was Teddy Roosevelt in 1904, winning a full term after filling out the unexpired term of William McKinley. And Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover in 1932 for the first of his four presidential wins.
In other famous elections on November 8th…John F. Kennedy narrowly beat Richard Nixon for the White House in 1960, Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California in 1966, and Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential race over Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Trump may be the only U.S. president who inspired a board game before becoming Chief Executive. “Trump: The Game,” a real estate contest, was introduced by the Milton Bradley Company in 1989. Inventor Milton Bradley was born on this day in 1836. The company is known for “The Game of Life,” “Candyland,” and “Chutes and Ladders,” as well as for home versions of popular TV game shows.
The panel show “What’s My Line?” inspired a couple of U.S. home versions, neither one made by Milton Bradley. Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen was a regular panelist on “Line” for 15 years, until her sudden death on November 8th, 1965, a few hours after appearing live on the Sunday night program. Conspiracy theorists have suggested someone murdered Kilgallen for knowing too much about the JFK assassination, or UFOs, or something else. By coincidence, Kilgallen’s death was announced on CBS just after her pre-taped appearance on the November 8th daytime episode of “To Tell the Truth.” On that same day, the NBC soap opera “Days of Our Lives” made its debut, beginning a run that continues today.
November 2 in history:
Commercial radio in the U.S. was launched on November 2nd, 1920, an election night. Station KDKA went on the air in Pittsburgh to broadcast returns from the presidential race between James Cox and Warren G. Harding. Harding was elected on his 55th birthday.
On another election day, November 2nd, 1976, the major U.S. TV networks began the tradition of using large red-white-and-blue maps to show which party has won which states in a presidential race. It wasn’t until the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore that the media generally adopted the code of “blue” for Democrats and “red” for Republicans, reportedly popularized by NBC’s Tim Russert.
George W. was a third-generation cheerleader at Yale, and also led cheers at the Andover prep school. Modern cheerleading was invented at a University of Minnesota football game on November 2nd, 1898. Minnesota student Johnny Campbell was among a group of young men who usually started specific cheers in the stands. On that particular day, Campbell stood up in front of the home crowd and taught them cheers by shouting through a megaphone.