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TV pioneers Newhart, Romano, Takei, Uggams and Walker have ‘Dy-no-mite’ tales to tell

Television » Newhart, Romano, Takei, Uggams, Walker are funny, poignant.

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George Takei » Generations of Asian Americans have approached George Takei "and said, ‘I decided to go into a specific area to study,’ because they saw me as a helmsman of a galactic starship," said the man who played Lt. Sulu, the helmsman of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

It was an era when Asian Americans were all but invisible on TV. "One of the most touching things" Takei heard from a Trekker came from Tony-winning actor B.D. Wong, who "said to me, ‘I decided to become an actor because I saw you on television.’ "

At a glance


Season 4 of “Pioneers of Television” airs on four consecutive Tuesdays at 7 p.m. on PBS/Ch. 7. The episodes are:

April 15 » “Standup to Sitcom”

April 22 » “Doctors and Nurses”

April 29 » “Breaking Barriers”

May 6 » “Acting Funny”

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Before "Star Trek," Asian Americans "were either comic buffoons or silent servants or cold, black-hearted, evil villains and usually playing the Japanese soldier, that sort of stereotype characterization," Takei said. "And, here, they saw me on ‘Star Trek’ as a full member of the leadership team, the best helmsman in the galaxy.

"And at that time, there was this stereotype about Asian drivers. Well, I saw that that was put to rest," Takei said with a smile.

Leslie Uggams » Half a century ago, Mitch Miller had to do battle with NBC to get Leslie Uggams on TV. Because Uggams is African-American.

" ‘Sing Along With Mitch’ put me on the map, because Mitch was the first one that fought for me," Uggams said. "Because the network was trying to get rid of me because the South would not carry the show. We were blacked out — no pun intended."

Some NBC affiliates in the South refused to air the show because of Uggams’ presence. And NBC, in turn, pressured Miller to get rid of her.

"They were upset because they weren’t selling their beers and cars to everybody," she said. "And they kept going to Mitch, the network, saying, ‘Get rid of her.’ And he kept saying, ‘No.’ "

NBC wanted Uggams in solo segments so she could be edited out; Miller refused.

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"And then they said, ‘Well, does she have to touch the [white] sing-along men when she’s performing?’ And he said, ‘She is part of the family and she’s staying on the show,’ which I didn’t know at the time.

"And we became such a big hit that the South was hearing about the show. They changed the policy and then I was on national television every week, but it was quite something back then."

Uggams went on to star in her own short-lived variety show on CBS, and she had a starring role in the groundbreaking miniseries "Roots."

"I would like to do television now because there are more roles for women over 60, 50," said the 70-year-old actress. "I think I could be somebody’s sexy mother-in-law, grandmother, whatever."

Jimmie Walker » In 1974, Jimmie Walker burst onto the scene with one of TV’s great catchphrases. Certainly one of the great one-word catchphrases, if there is such a thing.

"Dy-no-mite!" made him a star and made the sitcom "Good Times" a hit. But if the show’s legendary executive producer, Norman Lear, had had his way, the catchprase never would have happened.

According to Walker, director John Rich "loved it," but "Norman Lear detested it. He hated it. He just — it literally made him throw up."

It became his signature, but Walker himself was skeptical.

"I said, ‘John, you cannot just stand in front of people with no storyline and say "dy-no-mite" in the middle of a room,’ " Walker said. "People will never buy it. They’re not that stupid."

"And John Rich says, ‘Yes, they are.’ "

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