In paying tribute last week to Hugh Downs, the long-time announcer, host and newsman who passed away last week at 99, I forgot to single out another one of his accomplishments: sitcom scene stealer.
Fortunately, retro-savvy reader Kevin Vahey weighed in with a link to a classic: Downs getting pulled over in an episode of one of the funniest short-lived sitcoms of all time, Car 54 Where are You?
Downs aces the part — himself. He’s late for work — and driving a cool little English convertible– when he’s pulled over by officers Toody and Muldoon (Joe E. Ross and Fred Gwynne). When Downs tells Toody he has no time to waste as he’s taking over for Jack Paar on The Tonight Show that week, well, hilarity ensues.
“Jack walked out again?” asks Toody. “You sure he ain’t sore at anybody?”
The series ran from 1961 to 1963. Downs’ episode aired in ’61, a bit after Jack Paar, angry at the NBC censors, made his infamous exit live on-air near the start of one show. Downs was left to finish the rest of that hour-and-a-half episode and another month’s worth to follow.
Both shows aired on NBC. You have to wonder if NBC or any other broadcaster would have the smarts to laugh at themselves like this today.