6 What-The-Heck Origin Stories Of Classic Shows

We all know the way TV shows are supposed to start. A group of angry network employees, who secretly hate television and everyone who watches it, meet in a boardroom and brainstorm what will make them the most money. But sometimes, the spark behind a show comes from something totally unexpected ... 

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6
Rod Serling Came Up With The Twilight Zone After Witnessing A Creepy Ironic Death


Watching the original run of The Twilight Zone, you might pick up on the fact that creator Rod Serling was interested in the horrors of the military. Perhaps you'd get clued in by that episode about military horrors, or that episode about military horrors, or that episode about military horrors, or that episode about military horrors, and we grabbed those just out the first dozen episodes the series had. 

They also had a lot of astronauts, which were basically military IN SPACE.
CBS They also had a lot of astronauts, which were basically military IN SPACE.

Serling certainly had the military experience to back up his interest. World War II was going on when he was in high school, and he enlisted the very day after he graduated. He found himself in a platoon known as The Death Squad, a name they got not because they dealt so much death but because they received so much of it. He saw hundreds in his regiment die. Some of his adventures included getting shot in the kneecap, getting wounded by an anti-aircraft gun's shrapnel, and running on stage to save a singer when gunfire interrupted a party.

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But that's all standard War Is Hell stuff. If you want to go more into The Universe Has A Evil Sense Of Humor territory, you have to hear about Serling's best friend Melvyn Levy. While the two were in some foothills in the Philippines, an airdrop of supplies came falling toward them. These crates plummeted without parachutes, and out of them came K-rations and other goodies. "It's raining chow, boys!" said Melvyn. Then when Rod looked at him next, he saw a falling crate had somehow managed to cut the kid's head off.

A delivery meant to nourish him instead killed him. That's true cruel irony, and it influenced Serling's whole career as a writer. He gave Melvyn a very specific shout-out in one episode of The Twilight Zone, about soldiers stationed in the Philippines. And if you're wondering about the story behind that episode where someone sees a monster on his plane's wing, that's too complicated to get into here, but in short, Serling was secretly a gremlin. 

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5
Will Smith Was Roped Into Fresh Prince Because He Was Broke And Owed The IRS


We guess that you've surely all heard the news: Fresh Prince might get a dark reboot. If you're wondering if a grim take would still be fun, note that the show was behind-the-scenes kind of dark from day one. 

[cue 4-bar interlude]
NBC [cue 4-bar interlude]

Exec Benny Medina, as a teen, was an orphan who sold weed and amphetamines. At an art center, he met a white friend, who convinced his rich parents to adopt Ben in. When he later conceived a show based on his life, whites adopting black kids as a plot was trite. He switched the host family to black for Fresh Prince, a rare chance to include a theme of Black-on-Black prejudice.

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He went to mogul Quincy Jones with his pitch. For the lead, Ben wanted that rapper named Will Smith. A hankering for acting, well, Will never quite had it. Though luckily for us all, the guy was pretty much bankrupt. Rap paid. He'd had success, but now owed what was left to the IRS. He'd burned through six million, his latest album flopped. Yeah ... he'd need a new job. 

Auditioning for NBC and for Jones meant crashing Quincy's birthday. Will read right in his home. Though lacking experience, Will sure had flair. So the network suits greenlit Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

For the next decade, Will juggled music and acting, then films paid so well he dropped all of his rapping. That part's a shame cause know the one thing we'd want? A mid-credits rap after Suicide Squad.

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4
Power Rangers Was Secretly Basically A Spider-Man Spinoff


If you grew up on Power Rangers as a kid, you might be surprised to learn that the show was based off a trio of Japanese programs. If you didn't grow up on Power Rangers as a kid, you might be more surprised if this show about piloting giant robots weren't based on Japanese programs. So, we're not going to try to wow you with the knowledge that Power Rangers' robots came from a Japanese show called Super Sentai. No -- let's surprise you by telling you where that show got its robots from.

Because Super Sentai did not have mechs originally. The studio, Toei, put out robot-less episodes for a few years and then took a break from the show when a new property landed in their hands: the famous kid robot adventure known as Spider-Man. Have you seen Into the Spider-Verse? If so, you'll know Japan has a very different take on Spider-Man from the one you're used to, and though the 1970s cartoon we're talking about today isn't exactly the same as Peni Parker from the movie, it's just as weird.

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In Toei's Spider-Man world, the kid who gets spidey-ed is a motorcyclist named Takuya Yamashiro. The spider is alien, Takuya finds him when poking around a crashed spaceship, and that spaceship transforms into Leopardon, a big old robot. Not a robot to be defeated, but a loveable sidekick, and together they fight a bunch of evil minions.

Kids love fighting interchangeable enemies forever. Adults too.
Toei Kids love fighting interchangeable enemies forever. Adults too.

Toei incorporated Spider-Man's robots into Super Sentai, and also another trademark image that would find its way into Power Rangers: people freezing to pose dramatically. Now, does the link between Power Rangers and Spider-Man mean we're going to see a crossover movie any day now? Yes, because while Disney does not wholly own both properties at the time of writing, they soon will, inevitably.

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3
We Got SNL Because Johnny Carson Wanted More Vacation Days


Late at night in the middle of the weekend is not, one would think, a prime spot for a TV show. It definitely doesn't sound like a good spot for a show that originally billed itself as subversive and edgy, because you'd think the demographic most open to that sort of thing would have something better to do on Saturday nights than watch TV. And before Saturday Night Live debuted, NBC in fact did not have any kind of original programming in that slot at all. They just stuck in reruns of The Tonight Show.

Then the time came to renegotiate Johnny Carson's contract. And Johnny Carson said that he didn't want the network showing reruns of his show on Saturday. According to one account, Carson figured that if NBC saved up those reruns instead of airing them so quick, they could air whole blocks of reruns whenever he wanted to take a few weeks off, without incurring too much anger from viewers who'd seen the stuff multiple times already. It's also possible that he was just being a dick. Or maybe he was trying raise the value of his product by limiting its supply, which is how he managed to work out an even more lucrative contract soon after this. 

Google assures us that this is a photo of Johnny Carson.
NBC Google assures us that this is a photo of Johnny Carson.

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So, NBC had a block on their hands that they'd previously pegged for comedy, and a couple of nobodies named Lorne Michaels and Dick Ebersol said, hey, maybe this is the perfect slot for new comedy after all. Not everyone wants to get out of bed Saturday night, what with mattresses being so comfortable these days. And so we got maybe the most influential comedy program of all time as but a mere rerun replacement.

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2
9/11 Made All Those Food Network Shows A Success


Were the attacks of September 11, on balance, good? We're going to be so bold as to say "no," but that's only because we do not work in the field of televised cookery. If we did, we'd have to admit that the many trends that shifted during the attacks' aftermath included ratings jumping a whole lot over on the Food Network. 

People wanted comfort, and food is comforting. Watching food being made is more comforting than making it yourself, as cooking can be very stressful, and sometimes involves burning whichever part of your body is the pointiest. Watching also can even be more comforting than eating, which can lead to misplaced feelings of shame, or the trots. 

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Oh, cooking shows had existed long before 2001. So had celebrity chefs. But there now came a shift, starting with the suddenly popular Racheal Ray. Before, cooking shows had been educational, even instructional. You watched a cooking show to learn exactly how to make a dish. But now, networks found that viewers were increasingly interested in chefs as entertainers, and they liked watching food regardless of whether they were getting any real information on how to make it themselves. 

Some PornHub users want to learn new moves but that's not the medium's primary appeal.
Food Network Some PornHub users want to learn new moves but that's not the medium's primary appeal.

The type of food changed too. So long as cooking shows were about making you into a model homemaker, you could expect a program to teach you how to make something healthy and nutritious. But into the 2000s, and with the shift to entertainment, the Food Network realized just how much everyone was into desserts. Vegetarian dishes were soon out, and watching Guy Fieri eat pork bellies was in. So, post 9/11, viewers became lazier and fatter. The terrorists thought they were attacking America, but they made us more American than ever. 

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1
We Got The Oprah Winfrey Show Because Oprah And Roger Ebert Went On A Date


Oprah Winfrey and Roger Ebert first met late in the '70s, when he appeared on her show. Not on the Oprah Winfrey show -- we'll get to that show in a moment -- but on a local Baltimore morning show called People Are Talking. A chef came on to teach viewers how to make zucchini bread (this was very much a pre-9/11 world), and during a break, the blender spilled the shredded zucchini all over the couch. Oprah covered the cushions with newspapers and told Ebert that so long as he didn't rustle them as he sat, viewers wouldn't know anything was wrong. After such a perfect meet cute, it was clear the two would soon date, and that happened, oh, about five years later. 

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By this time Oprah was hosting a daytime show pretty similar to the one for which she'd eventually be famous, but it still wasn't the Oprah Winfrey show. It was called AM Chicago, Ebert himself had briefly guest hosted it, and Oprah had turned it into a hit. The two of them went on their date (a movie followed by food, appropriately), and she asked his advice on whether to accept a deal for distributor King World to syndicate the show.

That sounds like an obvious yes, since syndication meant more money. But syndication by a third party meant she stood more of a chance of getting canceled altogether because who knows, maybe only Chicago audiences would be into her. Rather than fall on generic assurances of "of course the whole country will love you," Ebert decided to turn to the one thing that livens up any date: math, written on napkins. If her deal made her enough money, he reasoned, it would be worth the risk.

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He took how much he earned (again, always a good thing to bring up on a date), doubled it to account for Oprah's show being twice as long, multiplied that by five since it was daily instead of weekly, and doubled it yet again since she wouldn't have to split the money with skinny sidekick Gene Siskel. The result was so big that, yeah, Oprah said she'd take the deal, and so her program became national hit The Oprah Winfrey Show -- yes, THE Oprah Winfrey show this time.

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