‘Pioneers of Television’ and ‘Variety Studio’ explore TV genres and Hollywood actors

Two “insider” shows that chronicle legends of present and past television return to Arizona PBS this winter.

“Pioneers of Television” is a four-part series beginning Dec. 28 that examines the people who left their imprint on sitcoms, late-night, variety and game shows in the early days of TV.

The show features interviews with legendary stars, including Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Art Linkletter, Andy Griffith, Betty White, Phyllis Diller, Jim Nabors, Marlo Thomas, Jonathan Winters, Ed McMahon and Merv Griffin. Using never-before-seen images and showcasing timeless clips, the documentary series examines the entertainers that provided the classic scenes that still amuse us today.

“Variety Studio” goes inside acting and actors in candid interviews with their own peers who’ve made some of the biggest Hollywood movies during the past year.

Tune in each Friday night at 8 p.m. through February on Arizona PBS.

Dec. 28

“Funny Ladies” – This episode features the first stand-up comediennes to appear on television, including Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers. It also looks at Lucille Ball’s breakthrough on “I Love Lucy” and the sitcom stars who followed, including Mary Tyler Moore, Betty White and Marla Gibbs. The show covers television’s most enduring variety star, Carol Burnett, and features interviews with contemporary actresses including Tina Fey and Margaret Cho.

Jan. 4

“Primetime Soaps” – “Dallas” and “Dynasty” kicked off the nighttime soap frenzy in the late 1970s and spun off the long-lasting series “Knots Landing.” Sometimes forgotten is the genre’s antecedent: 1964’s “Peyton Place,” which starred Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neal. Interviewees in this episode include Larry Hagman, Joan Collins, Linda Evans, Diahann Carroll, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Michele Lee, Joan Van Ark and Donna Mills.

Jan. 11

“Superheroes” –  It crosses many eras: “Superman” in the 1950s, “Batman” in the ’60s, “Wonder Woman” and “The Incredible Hulk” in the ’70s and “The Greatest American Hero” in the ’80s. The episode features in-depth interviews with Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, Lynda Carter, Lou Ferrigno, William Katt and others. It also includes comments from Robert Culp about “The Greatest American Hero,” recorded just days before he passed away.

Jan. 18

“Miniseries” – They were major events that captured the nation’s imagination. “Roots” was the biggest but “Rich Man, Poor Man” came first, and “The Thorn Birds” was seen by more viewers than any other in TV history. Current interviews with stars from these series offer insights into these groundbreaking shows.

Jan. 25

“Variety Studio: Actors on Actors” – Go inside some of Hollywood’s latest big films through candid conversations between the stars about their craft and work. See Benedict Cumberbatch with Claire Foy, Angela Bassett with Laura Dern, Darren Criss with Mandy Moore, Jason Bateman with Bill Hader and Jessica Biel with Alison Brie.

Feb. 1

“Variety Studio: Actors on Actors” (9 p.m.) — Michael B. Jordan (Fahrenheit 451) with Issa Rae (Insecure); Debra Messing (Will & Grace) with Sharon Stone (Mosaic); Jeff Daniels (The Looming Tower) with Laura Linney (Ozark); Tiffany Haddish (The Last O.G.) with John Legend (Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert); Edie Falco (Law & Order: True Crime) with J.K. Simmons (Counterpart).

Feb. 8

“Variety Studio: Actors on Actors” (9 p.m.) — Amy Adams (Vice) and Nicole Kidman (A Boy Erased/Destroyer), Mahershala Ali (Green Book) and John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman), Felicity Jones (On the Basis of Sex) and Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians).

“Variety Studio: Actors on Actors” (9:30 p.m.) — Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) with Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther), Timothee Chalamet (Beautiful Boy) with Emma Stone (The Favourite), Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns/A Quiet Place) with Hugh Jackman (The Front Runner).

Feb. 22

“Variety Studio: Actors on Actors” (9 p.m.) — John Krasinski (A Quiet Place) and Rosamund Pike (A Private War), Michael B. Jordan (Creed II /Black Panther ) and Charlize Theron (Tully), Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Kindergarten Teacher) and Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk).

“Variety Studio: Actors on Actors (9:30 p.m.) — Glenn Close (The Wife) with Sam Elliott (A Star is Born), Armie Hammer (On the Basis of Sex/Sorry to Bother You) with Dakota Johnson (Suspiria), and Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) with Viggo Mortensen (Green Book).

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