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By Suzanne

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.

bald eagleBirds, 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."
Todd and parrot
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.

Baretta and his cockatooOur 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

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