Today on the tray: TV dinners

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September 10 is National TV Dinner Day.

Who came up with the nifty idea of TV dinners, anyway? Well, several different parties lay claim to the invention. Swanson & Sons is credited with coming up with the term “TV dinner.” A popular story is that Swanson & Sons had 260 tons of unsold frozen Thanksgiving turkey on their hands one year, and one of their executives, inspired by airline meals, came up with the idea of packaging and selling the excess turkey as as part of a frozen dinner. This was in 1954. Quaker State Foods was already selling frozen dinners in aluminum trays in 1949, but Swanson was the first to enjoy widespread success with the frozen dinner concept.

In 1973, Swanson introduced its larger-portioned Hungry-Man Dinners. Below, a pre-Taxi, pre-Grease Jeff Conaway stars as a hungry man in an early commercial for the new, larger meal.

Jeff ConawayEver since we got married, all he does is eat! Good thing I found these Hungry-Man Dinners from Swanson! Look at all that chicken! Four meaty pieces. Swanson already put the second helping in. There’s fried chicken, turkey… four Hungry-Man dinners with the second helping already in!

It’s the next best thing to your good cooking. Swanson makes it good!

Today on the tray: Wiener schnitzel

September 9 is National Wiener Schnitzel Day.

wiener schintzel

Wiener schnitzel, according to Wikipedia, “is a very thin, breaded and deep fried schnitzel made from veal. It belongs to the best known specialties of Viennese cuisine. The Wiener Schnitzel is the national dish of Austria.”

I, for one, cannot hear “schnitzel” without thinking of Julie Andrews singing about “schnitzel with noodles” in The Sound of Music.

My Favorite Things

“Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels,
doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles”

Have you ever been to a Wienerschnitzel restaurant? The chain was founded in 1961 in Wilmington, California, and was then known as Der Wienerschnitzel. But if you go there looking for wiener schnitzel, you’ll be sorely disappointed, since it is not on the menu. And to make it more confusing, “Der Wienerschnitzel” isn’t even correct German; it should have been “Das Wienerschnitzel.” Oh, how I wish the world made sense.

Below, in a 1977 Der Wienerschnitzel commercial, a family passes by McDonald’s, Burger King, Jack in the Box, and a hot dog stand before ultimately settling on Der Wienerschnitzel, because it has hamburgers and hot dogs (though not wienerschnitzel). We all know the real reason is that the dad doesn’t want to have to turn the car around, but whatever. The commercial has a nice jingle. Sadly it does not feature Wienerschnitzel’s mascot, a hot dog named The Delicious One, who is on Twitter.


Vintage Der Wienerschitzel commercial (1977)

Today on the tray: Banana splits

banana splitAugust 25 is National Banana Split Day. 

According to some sources, the banana split was first created in 1904 by a pharmacist named David Evans Strickler in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Others dispute the claim. But in August 2013, Latrobe erected a commemorative marker with great fanfare at a banana split festival, so it must be true. After all, a sign says so.

banana split historical marker in Latrobe, Pa

In Latrobe, Pennsylvania, citizens celebrate banana split history and erect a marker staking the city’s claim as the birthplace of the banana split.

If you watched Saturday morning television from 1968 to 1970, you might also associate “banana split” with The Banana Splits Adventure Hour and its theme song that began, “Tra la la, la la la la. Tra la la, la la la la.”

The show featured a fictional rock band composed of Fleegle (a beagle), Bingo (a gorilla), Drooper (a lion), and Snorky (an elephant). It was produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions with costumes and sets designed by Sid and Marty Krofft.


Opening, The Banana Splits Adventure Hour

Tra la la, la la la la. Tra la la, la la la la.

One banana, two banana, three banana, four.
Four bananas make a bunch and so do many more.
Over hill and highway the banana buggies go
Comin’ on to bring you The Banana Splits Show.

Today in TV history: We learn The Facts of Life

The Facts of Life cast

The Facts of Life cast

On this date in 1979, Mrs. Garrett, the housekeeper from the first season of Diff’rent Strokes, graduated to her own series, The Facts of Life. In this spinoff, she becomes housemother to the girls of Eastland, a girls’ boarding school in Peekskill, New York. No more cleaning up after the Drummonds!

Charlotte Rae, who portrayed Mrs. Garrett, had played character roles on numerous shows, including Car 54, Where Are You?

Here are the rare opening credits from the first episode of The Facts of Life showing the crossover guest stars from Diff’rent Strokes. Like the opening used for the rest of Season 1, this one includes vocals by Mrs. Garrett herself, Charlotte Rae. There’s no mistaking that warble.


Opening credits and part of first episode, The Facts of Life, (August 24, 1979)

Which Facts of Life girl are you most like? Are you spoiled and vain like Blair? Tough and butch like Jo? Gossipy and immature like Tootie? Funny and zaftig like Natalie? (I’m a Natalie!)

Which one are you: Blair, Jo, Tootie, or Natalie?

Family Guy has paid homage to The Facts of Life in quite a few episodes. In this clip, for example, the androgynous Jo approaches Mrs. Garrett with a unique problem.


Family Guy, “You have both?!” from “Brian Goes Back to College” (Nov. 13, 2005)

Peter Griffin as Mrs. Garrett's rack

“No, no! That’s not what Mrs Garrett’s bosom looked like. It looked more like this.” –Peter Griffin, from Family Guy, “Family Guy Viewer Mail” (Feb. 14, 2002)

My favorite Facts of Life reference on Family Guy is from an episode in which the Griffins develop superpowers as a result of exposure to toxic waste. Peter’s superpower is the ability to change himself into any person or object. At the end of the episode, he transforms himself into “Mrs. Garrett’s giant rack,” complete with liver spots. “Girls, girls, girls!” he imitates the large-breasted housemother, and everyone laughs.

Today on the tray: Potato sticks

August 19 is National Potato Day. (So is October 27.)

There are a lot of different things I could have posted for National Potato Day. After all, potatoes are prepared so many different ways, and are used in so many different snacks.

But I ultimately settled on potato sticks, so that I could bring you this Japanese commercial for Nabisco Idaho Potato Sticks starring ’70s teen idol Leif Garrett. Watch as Garrett dances to his own recording of “I Was Made for Dancin’.” Gazing into the camera, he says, “I want to dance with you… and this [can of potato sticks].” How dreamy!


Nabisco Idaho Potato Sticks commercial (Japanese) with Leif Garrett (1979)

Born on this date: Maureen McCormick

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Maureen McCormick turns 58 today, August 5, 2014. McCormick is, of course, best known for playing Marcia on The Brady Bunch from 1969 to 1974, and then on its spinoffs, The Brady Bunch Hour, The Brady Brides, and the special A Very Brady Christmas. 


“Oh, my nose!” Marcia Brady gets a football in the nose in “The Subject Was Noses,” The Brady Bunch (Feb. 9, 1973)

mccormick as endora

Maureen McCormick as a young Endora on Bewitched.

Prior to The Brady Bunch, she acted in commercials and worked on shows such as Bewitched. Post-Brady Bunch, she appeared on The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and other series. In 2008 she published an autobiography titled, Here’s the Story:  Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice.

Here’s a video of McCormick on The Dating Game, where she has to choose one of three losers to go out with on a date. I can’t believe they couldn’t find more appealing guys than these in the L.A. area. Fer cryin’ out loud, she could have gone out with Doug Simpson, “the big man on campus”!


Maureen McCormick on The Dating Game (1973)

If you want to know which guy she picked, you have to watch Part 2. Oh, I’ll spoil it for you: It’s Loser #2. McCormick shows her acting chops when she pretends that she isn’t mortified when she sees him. They get to go to Monterey on their date.

Today on the tray: Ice cream sandwiches

August 2 is National Ice Cream Sandwich Day. The Los Angeles Times suggests “19 wild, weird ways to celebrate” National Ice Cream Sandwich Day, such as substituting brownies for cookies, or putting frosting on the inside.

ice cream sandwichBut I don’t think their suggestions are wild or weird enough. How about celebrating with a little food porn? This sexy Carvel commercial has a porn soundtrack complete with sighs of ecstasy (or, um, I’m told that’s what porn sounds like). About five seconds in, they make an ice cream sandwich.

Hey there, cookies, how about the three of us getting together and making a sandwich?


Carvel ice cream commercial (1986)

Today on the tray: Cheesecake

July 30 is National Cheesecake Day.

Why not celebrate by watching a Golden Girls marathon? The Girls ate cheesecake more than 100 times during the course of the series, according to The History Kitchen. That’s why some consider The Golden Girls the most fattening show on TV—you can’t watch it without craving cheesecake.

In  real life, Bea Arthur didn’t like cheesecake—but acting as if she did won her an Emmy.


Exactly how many problems have the Golden Girls solved over cheesecake?

Today on the tray: Milk chocolate

Cadbury's Milk TrayJuly 28 is National Milk Chocolate Day.

How does milk chocolate differ from other types of chocolate? Wikipedia says, “Milk chocolate is solid chocolate made with milk in the form of milk powder, liquid milk, or condensed milk added. In the 1870s, Swiss confectioner Daniel Peter had developed solid milk chocolate using condensed milk, but German company Jordan & Timaeus in Dresden, Saxony, invented milk chocolate already in 1839; hitherto it had only been available as a drink.”

Cadbury introduced Milk Tray boxed milk chocolates in 1915. Today, in honor of National Milk Chocolate Day, let Michael’s TV Tray be known as Michael’s Milk Tray!


Vintage Australian Cadbury Milk Tray chocolates commercial (early 1960s)

For the girl who’s got that lonely, all-by-herself feeling, here’s an invitation to happiness: Milk Tray! Cadbury’s Milk Tray!

Milk Tray has those happy centers
Centers you can crunch or chew
Fruity, creamy, soft, or crisp
Milk Tray means it’s happiness for two!

Happy National Milk Chocolate Day!

Today on the tray: Scotch whisky

Groundskeeper Willie

Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons brushes his teeth with whiskey.

July 27 is National Scotch Day.

Scotch is malt or grain whisky made in Scotland that follows certain regulations. According to Liquor.com, “There are just less than 100 distilleries operating in Scotland, and they all must abide by the Scotch Whisky Association’s rules. The alcohol has to be made entirely in Scotland and aged there in oak casks for at least three years and one day.” Also, they spell “whisky” there without an “e”.

Whiskey always makes me think of the parrot that sang about whiskey in an episode of The Flying Nun. The episode was “Polly Wants a Cracked Head.” You see, Sister Bertrille rescues a parrot named Junior from a seemingly abusive owner and hides him in the convent (without the Reverend Mother’s knowledge, of course) until a new home can be found. Unfortunately, Junior sings sea shanties (“Whiskey for My Johnny”) and makes off-color remarks at the most inopportune times.

Here is the episode in its entirety. Junior sings “Whiskey for My Johnny” for the first time at the eight-minute mark, and then again several more times throughout the episode.


The Flying Nun, “Polly Wants a Cracked Head” (Oct. 19, 1967)

O, whiskey is the life of man,
Whiskey, Johnny!
O, I’ll drink whiskey while I can
Whiskey for my Johnny!

O, whiskey makes me wear old clothes
Whiskey, Johnny!
Whiskey gave me a broken nose
Whiskey for my Johnny!

See the full lyrics

I’ve just found out that “Whiskey for My Johnny” is an Irish song, so the parrot apparently was singing about Irish whiskey and not Scotch whisky. 

Okay, then. Here’s a traditional drinking song sung by The Simpsons’ Groundskeeper Willie, a Scotsman. Surely he is singing about scotch:


Groundskeeper Willie sings “I'm So Drunk” in the episode “The President Wore Pearls” on The Simpsons (Nov. 16, 2003)

I’m so drunk I could barely see!
But it helps me get through another day!
My stomach is filled with haggis and hurt!
I’ve got to go puke in some hay!

Have a happy and safe National Scotch Day!

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