Imagine being a devotee of Classic TV your entire life, then getting the opportunity to speak to many of the people you admire and actually turning those conversations into biographies or companions to some of those people and shows. And then imagine those same people sitting right across from you as you interview them for your own Classic TV talk show. Well, look no further than Amazon Prime’s Then Again with Herbie J Pilato to see somebody who’s done all of that.
Herbie, the author of such books as Mary: The Mary Tyler Moore Story and Twitch Upon a Star: The Bewitched Life and Career of Elizabeth Montgomery, laughs, “I’ve been having this talk show my entire life; my life has been a talk show. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but when it actually started moving forward, I wasn’t even thinking about it.”
As he explains it, he was doing a couple of book signings at the Burbank Barnes & Noble and, in the process, became friendly with the management. One day they contacted him, asking if he would be interested in doing a weekly event during their pop culture month. Unsurprisingly, he was — and they, in turn, suggested he could invite anyone he chose to talk as part of a presentation.
“So I, of course, dipped into my Classic TV address book,” he explains, “and the first person I talked with was Cindy Williams, who just had her memoir, Shirley, I Jest, come out. So she was my first guest. And then Kathy Garver from Family Affair, followed by Peter Mark Richman, who’s a Classic TV icon with over 500 guest starring roles on TV shows ranging from The Twilight Zone to Three’s Company, where he played Chrissy’s father, the minister. So by the end of that month, more and more people were attending the events, which wasn’t about money — it was about having fun.”
So successful was it, that what began in July continued all the way through December. “I had to do something special for the holiday season,” says Herbie, “so I invited everybody back who appeared on the weekly events, and many of these people did not have books they were selling. They were just doing it, because they were dear friends who were enjoying the whole thing. It was just becoming this cool thing to do every weekend in Burbank, and we were having a blast.
“Joel Eisenberg and Lorie Girsh Eisenberg, colleagues and amazing producers — and Joel is an author himself — attended one of these events and participated,” he adds. “They were showing up every week. At the end of the Christmas special, they said to me as I’m packing up, ‘By the way, we want to turn this into a TV show.’ Uh, Merry Christmas!”
Executive producer Steve Hillard invested in creating a “sizzle reel,” which essentially consists of highlights to give investors a sense of what a potential show could be. This meant Herbie went back to his Classic TV friends, some of whom had already participated in the events, other who hadn’t yet done so, and they created that sizzle reel, which was shown around. “After a few delays here and there,” he notes, “and a lot of hard work, Shout Factory came on board and the show began airing July 1st on Amazon Prime and Shout Factory TV.”
The end results are currently available for streaming, with a first season consisting of four episodes. The first episode features Stanley and Barry Livingston from My Three Sons, the second has Robert Conrad of The Wild Wild West, the third is a salute to the horror soap opera Dark Shadows, featuring cast members Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker and David Selby, and the finale is a tribute to the late Garry Marshall with such guests as Marion Ross (Mrs. C. from Happy Days), and Eddie Mekka from Laverne & Shirley, with Miss Shirley Feeney herself, Cindy Williams, calling in.
All of it is pretty head-spinning for Herbie. “I started out as an actor as you know, and as a kid I always wanted to be an actor, which really stemmed from my love for Bewitched. I loved all shows from the ‘60s, and that was my original gig when I came here. But then I wrote the reunion movie for Bewitched, which Elizabeth Montgomery didn’t want to do, so I asked her about a book and ended up writing the Bewitched book. The Kung Fu Book of Caine and the Kung Fu Book of Wisdom followed, and then I started doing documentaries about these shows, serving as a cultural commentator on them. This led to doing DVDs for Chips, Kung Fu, Bewitched and The Six Million Dollar Man. All of it just seemed to be bringing me to this moment, without me even thinking about it.”
That “moment” is embodied by the Amazon Prime series, which he describes as follows: “It’s a Classic TV talk show that celebrates the iconic stars and the iconic shows that have made people so happy for so long. These are actors who have made such an impression for years, who are finally back in the mainstream thanks to networks like Cozi TV and MeTV. There’s a mainstream appreciation of those shows happening again, thus the title Then Again with Herbie J Pilato. And, you know, whatever happens after this — second season, third season or whatever — my dream came true.”
Then Again with Herbie J Pilato is available for streaming now on Amazon Prime.
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