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This Is Your Life is a television documentary series hosted by its producer, Ralph Edwards. It originally aired in the United States from 1952 to 1961, and again in 1972 on NBC. It originated as a radio show airing from 1948 to 1952 on NBC Radio. A version of it continues a very long intermittent run in the United Kingdom starting in 1955, and another version is still running in Australia. It has also been broadcast from time to time in New Zealand and Scandinavia.

Contents

Concept

The format of the show consisted of the host, who would surprise someone (usually a celebrity or public figure, occasionally an ordinary citizen) and, consulting his "red book", conduct a biography of the subject in a television studio. The subject would be presented with family members and old friends, reunited with old acquaintances, and often shed a tear when a personal tragedy was recounted.

The 1950s edition of the show was aired live before a theater audience. The celebrity guests were ambushed by Ralph Edwards and confronted by the microphone and cameras. They made their way to the studio during the first commercial break. Most of the honorees quickly got over their initial shock and enjoyed meeting bygone friends again, as with Don DeFore on 6 May 1953.[1] Pioneer movie producer Mack Sennett's response was typical: he hated being caught off-guard, but as the tribute progressed he relaxed, and by the end of the show he was quite pleased with the experience.

Advance planning for the broadcast meant that, inevitably, certain celebrities would know in advance about the surprise. Carl Reiner later admitted that he knew beforehand about his appearance. Only once was a celebrity told deliberately in advance, when Eddie Cantor was chosen for an appearance. Cantor had a heart condition, so Edwards made sure that he knew everything about the show to avoid a possible relapse from shock. In addition, Lillian Roth was honored on a special telecast in 1953, with all involved knowing about it, and endorsed by Alcoholics Anonymous (her story became the basis of her autobiography and the film, I'll Cry Tomorrow).

Some celebrities were unpleasantly surprised. Angie Dickinson refused to appear,[2] and Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy was angered by being "tricked" into what would be the team's only American television appearance on 1 December 1954. The meticulous Laurel later said, "[Oliver Hardy] and I were always planning to do something on TV. But we never dreamed that we would make our television debut on an unrehearsed network program... I was damned if I was going to put on a free show for them," although he mellowed in later years when so many viewers told him how much they enjoyed the show. Lowell Thomas was probably the most hostile and annoyed on-air guest. When host Ralph Edwards tried to assure him that he would enjoy what was to come, Thomas replied, "I doubt that very much."

There was one celebrity who gave strict orders never to be made the subject of the show, and that was Ralph Edwards himself. He made it clear to his entire staff that they would all be terminated if they ever attempted to surprise him on his own show, which never happened.

Attempted revivals

Edwards would revive the series twice in syndication, the first one with Edwards again as host and in 1983 with Joseph Campanella. Both failed to capture the magic of the original series, mostly due to the series being filmed or taped and, in the case of the 1971-72 version, some stations that aired it gave away the surprise elements in ads and promos for the show. During the late-1980s, Ralph Edwards hosted a few one-off prime-time network airings of This Is Your Life, most memorably an episode featuring Betty White and Dick Van Dyke.

In November 2005, ABC announced that it was developing a new version of the show, to be hosted by Regis Philbin. Coincidentally, the show's creator, Ralph Edwards, died not long after the announcement was made. In August 2006, Philbin decided not to renew his contract with the show (he was committed to hosting America's Got Talent on NBC), and ABC is considering moving forward with another host.[3][4]

In May 2007, on the television series American Idol, Sir Trevor McDonald presented Simon Cowell with the red book. The full version of the revived show was broadcast on 2 June 2007 on British television.

In October 2008, Survivor producer Mark Burnett announced he was developing another revival of the series, though the project is yet to be attached to any network.[5]

UK version

The show was adapted in several countries, including the United Kingdom, where it was launched in 1955 on the BBC and was presented by Eamonn Andrews (who also ended up being the first "victim"). It ended in 1964 when Eamonn Andrews moved to ABC, but it was revived on ITV (produced by Thames Television) in 1969, and Michael Aspel (himself a "victim" in 1980[6]) became presenter after Andrews died in 1987. It returned to the BBC in 1994, though it was still produced independently by Thames Television, and was axed in 2003. The show made its return on the ITV Network in June 2007, produced by SMG Productions and ITV Productions. One notable difference to previous UK runs is that the programme's subject was trailed in advance.

Australian version

In Australia, the show was aired on the Nine Network on Thursday nights for a relatively short annual season. It began in 1975 on the Seven Network, hosted by Andrew Barbeler. Subsequent seasons were compered by Digby Wolfe (1976) and Geordi Hunt (1977 - 1980). The program was re-launched on the Nine Network in 1995, hosted by Mike Munro.

New Zealand version

Thirty-nine New Zealanders have been honoured in the New Zealand version of the show, which has been broadcast on and off since 1984[1] on Television New Zealand's TVOne. It was originally hosted by Bob Parker (1984-1996), but more recent episodes have been presented by Paul Holmes (1996-2000) and Paul Henry (2007-2008). Most recently, racecar driver Scott Dixon was honoured, on 21 September 2008. Other recent recipients have included extreme sports pioneer, A.J Hackett (who was profiled on 6 November 2007). Mark Inglis (who lost his legs on Mt Cook in 1982), the subject of an episode that was broadcast on 5 June 2007, and former All Blacks winger Jonah Lomu, who was honoured in a show that aired on 9 April 2007.

Prior to that, the last This Is Your Life programme in New Zealand was broadcast in September 2000. The subject of that episode was the great New Zealand runner, Peter Snell. Previous subjects of the show have included prominent figures in sports (such as John Walker, Sir Peter Blake, Mark Todd, Lance Cairns, Scott Dixon and Colin Meads), the arts (like Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, who also once appeared on the British edition of the show, Dame Malvina Major, Rob Guest, Rowena Jackson and Sir Howard Morrison), politics (e.g. Sonja Davies and Dame Catherine Tizard), broadcasting (like Sir Geoffrey Cox, Nola Luxford, Selwyn Toogood and Davina Whitehouse), literature (Barbara Ewing and A.K. Grant), science (Brian Harold Mason and William Pickering) and the military (Johnny Checketts and Charles Upham). The show has also featured iconic New Zealanders such as mountaineer and explorer Sir Edmund Hillary and Māori activist Dame Whina Cooper.

Parodies

  • Your Show of Shows did a parody of this show, titled This Is Your Story (broadcast 3 April 1953), in which emcee Carl Reiner surprises Sid Caesar, who can't stop crying and embracing the friends and relatives on stage
  • Merrie Melodies cartoon This is a Life? (1955) with Elmer Fudd as the host, Bugs Bunny as the guest of honor, and Yosemite Sam as the mystery guest
  • The first issue of Mad Magazine (July, 1955) had a feature Is This Your Life? with Raoul Phedwards as the host and Melvin Furd as the guest of honor.
  • Ralph Edwards appeared on an episode of The Flip Wilson Show to do a This is Your Life of Wilson's character Geraldine Jones
  • Edwards himself was the recipient of a This Is Your Life parody when he appeared as a guest on The Mike Douglas Show (Edwards for years said that if any member of his staff ever surprised him by making him the central subject of his own This Is Your Life show, he would fire them)
  • Are You Being Served? parodied This Is Your Life with Young Mr. Grace as the guest in the 1977 Series Five episode "Founder's Day"
  • Fairly Oddparents had a parody of this show, with Cosmo as the guest star
  • Sesame Street also had a recurring parody called Here is Your Life, showing the life and times of several everyday items, like a loaf of bread, an oak tree, a shoe, etc. It was hosted by Guy Smiley
  • The Electric Company had a one shot parody, called This Was Your Life
  • Donald Duck was the honored guest on a version of This is Your Life hosted by Jiminy Cricket (and authorized by Ralph Edwards), produced as a 1960 episode of Walt Disney Presents, later repeated on The Wonderful World of Disney
  • German sketch comic Loriot also parodied the show
  • Space Ghost Coast to Coast aired a parody episode which featured Zorak
  • Monday Night Raw in 1999 Mick Foley presented then tag-team partner The Rock with a This Is Your Life-type presentation. Years later The Rock would return the favor
  • The Internet flash cartoon Happy Tree Friends featured an episode titled This Is Your Knife, a parody on the show's name
  • Jack Chick wrote a tract entitled "This Was Your Life," where God reviews someone's life after death
  • The Price Is Right featured a parody of the show in a showcase entitled "Janice Pennington, This Is Your Strife," with Johnny Olson reading from a red book recalling Pennington's various mishaps with prizes
  • A This Is Your Life re-enactment constitutes the series finale of the animated short Batfink
  • In the Viva Pinata television series Hudson Horstachio is brought onto a similar show called "This Here's Your Life"
  • On The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1982, Johnny Carson surprised Burt Reynolds with his own comedic version of This Is Your Life, with Dom DeLuise appearing as Burt's assistant
  • The British comedy sketch show Big Train contained a parody with Simon Pegg as the host who spoke at length about the subject's husband's prolonged battle with a made up disease which ended with doctors reconstructing his entire body with catgut.
  • WWF Raw superstar Mick Foley presented his own representation of This Is Your Life with The Rock, which to this day remains the highest rated segment in the shows history.

References

  1. ^ "This is Your Life - Don DeFore at IMDB.com". http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0721376/.  
  2. ^ Archerd, Army (16 November 2005). "This is Angie Dickinson's Life". Variety. http://www.armyarcherd.com/2005/11/this_is_angine_.html.  
  3. ^ "ABC Contemplates Life Without Regis", Broadcasting & Cable, 30 August 2006.
  4. ^ "TV Q&A with Rob Owen", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 25 August 2006.
  5. ^ Mark Burnett Does 'This Is Your Life'
  6. ^ Michael Aspel a "victim" in 1980

External links

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