The Tracey Ullman Show

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The Tracey Ullman Show
Ullman.png
Genre Live action
Sketch comedy
Variety show
Animation (1987-89)
Created by James L. Brooks
Jerry Belson
Ken Estin
Heide Perlman
Starring Tracey Ullman
Julie Kavner
Dan Castellaneta
Sam McMurray
Joseph Malone
Anna Levine (1988–89)
Theme music composer George Clinton
Opening theme "You're Thinking Right"
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 4
No. of episodes 81 (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s) James L. Brooks
Jerry Belson
Ken Estin
Heide Perlman
Sam Simon
Producer(s) Jay Kogen
Wallace Wolodarsky
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 22–24 minutes
Production company(s) 20th Century Fox Television
Gracie Films
Distributor 20th Television
Broadcast
Original channel Fox
Original run April 5, 1987 (1987-04-05)  – May 26, 1990 (1990-05-26)
Chronology
Related shows The Simpsons
Tracey Takes On...

The Tracey Ullman Show is an American television variety show, hosted by English-born comedian and onetime pop singer Tracey Ullman. It debuted on April 5, 1987 as the Fox network's second primetime series after Married... with Children, and ran until May 26, 1990. The show is produced by Gracie Films and 20th Century Fox Television. The show blended sketch comedy shorts with many musical numbers, featuring choreography by Paula Abdul. The show is best known for producing The Simpsons shorts before it spun off into its own show, which was also produced by Gracie Films and 20th Century Fox Television (now 20th Television).

Background[edit]

By the 1980s, acclaimed television producer James L. Brooks (producer of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi, and Rhoda), had left the television industry for the big screen. At the time that he won the Oscar for his film, Terms of Endearment, Brooks began receiving videotapes from Ullman's Los Angeles agent, hoping to get his attention. Ullman, who was already famous in her homeland, England, was already landing a variety of television deals and proposals in America, but none had panned out. These projects did not suit Ullman's interests. "[They were] shows with morals, where everyone learns something at the end of the show", related Ullman to a television critic for TV Guide in 1989, describing the television show ideas that were offered to her. Brooks was so taken by what he saw in Ullman that he decided to take the young actress under his wing and return to television. Brooks was determined to develop the right vehicle to showcase Ullman's talents — acting, dancing, and singing — and decided to create a sketch comedy show. Ullman had already had a successful music career in the early 1980s in the UK, and had a top 10 hit on the American charts with a cover of Kirsty MacColl's "They Don't Know" and her You Broke My Heart in 17 Places.

Format[edit]

A typical episode would begin with Ullman giving a brief introduction, ostensibly from her dressing room, leading into the opening titles (the show's theme, "You're Thinking Right", was written by George Clinton). Then two or three comedy sketches would be presented in each episode, most designed to showcase Ullman's ability to skillfully mimic various accents. One popular recurring character was timid, slow-talking Kay ("Iiit's... Kaaaaaaaayyy...")

Typically, the final sketch of the night would include a musical and/or dance number featuring Ullman solo or other members of the cast. The final segment saw Ullman, clad in a robe, deliver a closing monologue to the studio audience before ending the show with her catchphrase "Go Home! Go Home!" and dancing as the credits rolled. Ullman often talked about her husband, Allan McKeown, and her daughter, Mabel. Ullman chose the phrase, "Go home", during the show's pilot episode because she could not think of anything clever to end with. "Oh, you got sore bums... go home!"

Characters[edit]

Tracey Ullman as Kay Clark, from "Kay on Vacation", ep. 1.6, 1987

Tracey performed an array of characters. Most only appeared once, as the sketches concentrated on plot, with characters created to best tell that particular storyline. A handful of characters did however return for subsequent sketches. These include:

Ginny Tillman, the ex-wife of a Beverly Hills proctologist; Francesca McDowell, a 14-year-old New York City girl being raised by her father Dave (portrayed by Castellaneta) and his partner William (McMurray); Tina, a Brooklyn postal employee who is best friends with her co-worker Meg (Kavner); Sarah Downey, a quintessential yuppie married to attorney Greg (Castellaneta); Kay Clark, an English office worker and caregiver to her sick mother (Kay also appeared frequently in Tracey Takes On...); Sandra Decker, an aged Hollywood movie actress; Kiki Howard-Smith, an Australian professional golfer; Summer Storm, a Los Angeles disc jockey; and Angel Tish, a singer who appeared with her husband Marty (Castellaneta).

Among the recurring characters portrayed by other cast members, besides those previously mentioned, were Gulliver Dark (McMurray), singer and rival to Marty Tish, and Dr. Alexander Gibson (Castellaneta), a psychiatrist.

In the course of its four season run, Ullman performed a total of 108 characters.[1]

Episodes[edit]

Animated segments[edit]

The Simpsons[edit]

Main article: The Simpsons shorts

The Simpson family debuted in short animated cartoons on The Tracey Ullman Show for three seasons before being spun off into their own half-hour series. These shorts, also called "bumpers", aired before and after commercial breaks during the first and second seasons of the show. They eventually had their own full segments in between the live action segments during season three. They did not appear in the fourth and final season, as they had their own half-hour TV series by then.

All of them were written by Matt Groening and animated at Klasky-Csupo by a team of animators consisting of David Silverman, Wes Archer, and Bill Kopp. Tracey Ullman Show cast members Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner provide the voices of Homer Simpson and Marge Simpson respectively. In the beginning, the drawings appeared very crude because the animators were more or less just tracing over Groening's storyboards, but as the series developed, so did the designs and layouts of the characters and the "Simpsons drawing style" was ultimately conceived. This style evolved even more throughout the first few seasons of The Simpsons and was used more than a decade later on Futurama, another animated series created by Matt Groening.

Dr. N!Godatu[edit]

Dr. N!Godatu was another series of animated shorts created by M.K. Brown (and animated by the same Klasky-Csupo team). It originally alternated every other week with the Simpsons shorts, but was dropped after the first season of the show. By this point, Groening's shorts had gained much more popularity and the producers saw no reason to continue Brown's shorts. The character was voiced by Julie Payne.

Awards[edit]

Tracey Ullman at the 1989 Emmy Awards

The show won three Emmy Awards: for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Program in 1989 and 1990, for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program in 1990. Also in 1989, choreographer Paula Abdul won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography for her work.[2] Abdul was noted for putting Ullman through strenuous choreographed routines. Ullman had been a trained dancer.

Credits[edit]

Cast[edit]

Guest stars[edit]

Cast of The Tracey Ullman Show, 1987. Left to right: Dan Castelleneta, Sam McMurray, Tracey Ullman, Joe Malone, Julie Kavner

Series directors[edit]

  • Ted Bessell (unknown episodes)
  • Paul Flaherty (one episode, 1987)
  • Art Wolff (unknown episodes)

Series writers[edit]

  • Kim Fuller (unknown episodes)
  • Jeff Baron (unknown episodes)
  • Dan Castellaneta (unknown episodes)
  • Paul Flaherty (13 episodes, 1987)
  • Marc Flanagan (unknown episodes)
  • Susan Gauthier (unknown episodes)
  • Paul Haggis (unknown episodes)
  • Sue Herring (unknown episodes)
  • Holly Holmberg Brooks (unknown episodes)
  • David Isaacs (unknown episodes)
  • Ken Levine (unknown episodes)
  • Heide Perlman (unknown episodes)
  • Michael Sardo (2 episodes, 1989)
  • Guy Shulman (unknown episodes)
  • Sam Simon (unknown episodes)

Syndication[edit]

Re-runs appeared on Comedy Central and the Lifetime TV cable network throughout the mid and late 1990s in the United States.

References[edit]

External links[edit]