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Birds of Broadcast TV
I had a thought the other day that birds aren't very
widely represented on television. As far back as Rin Tin Tin and Lassie,
dogs have always been popular characters on TV. Cats have also been with
us, though, being so much harder to train, they tend to be more popular
as puppets (like on "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch"), cartoon characters,
or occasional guests on "America's Funniest Home Videos." Even on
reality TV, we have the "Dog Whisperer" but not the "Bird Tweeter" or
what have you.
of course, mostly have the ability to fly which must make wrangling them
and training them difficult. This is probably why no one has thought of
making a TV show out of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." The budget in
bird cages alone would probably be way too high.
What of flightless birds? As popular as penguins became in the movies
for a while, they never much prospered on television.
Of course, in and out of bird cages, our feathered friends have often
been popular characters on the small screen either as cartoon characters
or puppets. Even if you don't know some of them, your parents and
grandparents probably do. Warner Brothers brought us the adorable Tweety
Bird, who gave Sylvester the Cat such an incredibly hard time. Daffy
Duck's life, in turn, was not made any easier during his encounters with
the "despicable" Bugs Bunny. Disney's grumpy Donald Duck has also had
his share of television exposure, of course. More recent TV birds
include Duckman (a male voiced by Jason Alexander of "Seinfeld", though
not any more a "man" than Donald or Daffy) and, of course, we all grew
up with the legendary Big Bird of "Sesame Street."
In 1997, soap opera "One Life to Live" added a parrot character to be a
companion for former rapist Todd. Todd had a very dark sense of humor,
and the parrot played his foil. The parrot, Moose, was played by two
veteran bird actors: South American blue and gold Macaws named Flash and
Lucky. They had previously worked on TV shows like Magnum, P.I. and Jake
and the Fatman. The show's head writer, Claire Labine, loves animals and
frequently wrote animals into her stories.
favorite real bird of television is one you might not have heard of if
you're under 40 or 45, however. That was Fred, the cockatoo often
released from bird cages during the old "Baretta" series which first ran
from 1975 to 1978. It was about a tough policeman, the kind of officer
who never gets into uniform and is always getting into fights with his
boss etc., except he had a soft spot for his pet cockatoo. Since
Cockatoos are good talkers, Fred even helped out on cases by yelling
"Freeze!" The show featured Robert Blake, an excellent actor who these
days is probably best known as the prime suspect in a pretty nasty 2004
murder trial. (Blake was acquitted by an L.A. jury, but was later found
liable for the killing in a $30 million civil case.)
Anyhow, getting back to Fred, who we're pretty sure never hurt anyone,
he was an amazing animal performer who always seemed to relate to Robert
Blake as one actor to another. His real name was Lala and he was owned
by legendary animal trainer Ray Berwick. He originally came from Hong
Kong and was, we're told, smuggled in with a shipment of illegal Asian
chickens. As you could guess, English was his second language -- and he
apparently lived to be 70 years old. He was one cool old bird.
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Page updated 9/6/12