We'll miss these stars, craftsmen, pioneers


Oh, Barn ...

For those of us who can recite most episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show" from memory, it was a sad morning in February when the news broke that that Don Knotts had died at age 81.

There is a good reason why the bug-eyed, rubber-limbed comedian won five consecutive Emmys for playing bumbling sheriff's deputy Barney Fife. Nobody ever threw themselves into a role more than Knotts did, with every sinewy, funny fiber of his being. Before CBS' "Andy Griffith," Knotts was a member of the legendary "Steve Allen Show" troupe, and that alone would have earned him a spot in television encyclopedias for all time. But Knotts clearly was a person who just liked to work, and he kept at it until almost the day he moved on to the great Mayberry in the sky.

Dennis Weaver died the same day as Knotts, at the same age and, yes, he too played a beloved law-enforcement sidekick, Chester Goode, deputy to James Arness' Marshal Dillon on CBS' "Gunsmoke." Weaver graduated to boss-cop status and TV's coolest sheepskin coat ever in primetime on NBC's long-running "McCloud."

Darren McGavin, who died in February at 83, didn't have such a long run as way-out-there investigative reporter Carl Kolchak on ABC's wonderfully weird, mid-'70s comedy-horror series "Kolchak: The Night Stalker." But the show still managed to influence just about every spooky/fantasy drama to come along since, i.e. "The X-Files" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Dan Curtis, producer of the first "Night Stalker" telefilm for ABC in 1972, died in March at 78. Curtis left the limited special effects of "Night Stalker" behind in the 1980s for the ABC miniseries spectacles "The Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance."

A pause for remembrance also is due for such giants who died during the past 12 months as NBC News president Reuven Frank, steward of "The Huntley-Brinkley Report" (good night, Reuven); Mike Douglas, the unfailingly warm talk-show conversationalist and song stylist; Ed Bradley, ever-cool, racial-barrier-busting reporter noted for his derring-do on assignment; and the incomparable Aaron Spelling, who was no stranger to this column in his final years.

Elma "Pem" Farnsworth never was a household name in connection with television, but she should have been. She was married to the genius farm-boy television tube inventor Philo T. Farnsworth, and as such she was a key supporter in all of his lab work and doomed business ventures. And to the end of her 98 years, she never stopped agitating to secure her husband proper recognition for his role in advancing the medium.

Other passings that touched the industry this year included Scott Brazil, who worked as a showrunner on FX's "The Shield" until days before his death in April; Jerry Belson, the comedy writer deemed by his longtime writing partner Garry Marshall to be "the funniest man in the world"; and Ralph Story, the radio and TV broadcaster whose finely crafted news and feature reports for KABC-TV and KCBS-TV (nee KNXT-TV) in the 1970s and '80s linger in my memory as gems of a bygone era in Los Angeles TV news.