Ron Onesti: The black hole of television

BACKSTAGE with the Arcada Theatre’s Ron Onesti

I did some channel surfing on the “boob tube” last night. I usually just turn on the Food Network, History Channel or episodes of “The Office” or “Modern Family.” As I was going program to program, I recognized NOBODY! All these crime shows, “Game of Thrones”-esque series, Bachelor-Bachelorette-Dancing with the Stars fiascos and Chicago Fire, Police, ER-type programs and not one recognizable celeb did I see.

I remember the days when every show had the sex-symbol of the day or the showbiz icon leading the pack of actors on variety shows, game shows and late-night TV. Have you watched The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon or Saturday Night Live lately? Where are they getting these guests from?

Growing up we would regularly see legends making guest appearances and guest-starring on virtually every show on the tube. Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers and Carol Channing types, who I never saw except for the countless times per week they were on some talk show.

I learned about George Burns not from his days with Gracie on their television and radio shows together, but from the times he popped up on The Carol Burnett Show, toting his unlit cigar as much of an appendage as his arms themselves.

Saturday Night Live always had the top improvisational comics of the day, from Steve Martin to John Belushi, Eddie Murphy to Chris Farley. Today? Maybe they are local NYC stand-up comics in between gigs at the Brooklyn Comedy Lounge.

I realize comparing Johnny Carson and David Letterman is fundamentally unfair to compare to today. But think of that guest couch Johnny would regularly fill with superstars on a nightly basis. That is where I learned about showbiz superstars of yesteryear.

Burt Reynolds, Don Rickles, Dom DeLuise, Groucho Marx, Angie Dickinson, Jimmy Stewart, Raquel Welch, Audrey Meadows, Steve Allen, Charles Nelson Reilly, Mel Brooks, Tony Randall, Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, Telly Savalas, Burns and Schreiber, Howard Cosell, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Joe Namath, Buddy Rich … I could go on and on. ALL became professional talk show guests!

That is how I got to know these legends. I am a bit young to know most of these from their actual work. But what about my childhood stars? You rarely, if ever, see them in their golden years on TV. And if you do, it is hard to concentrate on what they are saying rather than the money they spent on plastic surgeons. Have you seen Madonna or Cher lately?

You never see Tom Selleck, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Gene Hackman, Alan Alda, John Travolta, Loni Anderson, Loretta Swit, Jaclyn Smith, Michelle Pfeiffer, Henry Winkler, Barbara Eden, Ron Howard — not even any of the cast from “Friends” or “Dallas” on Jimmy Kimmel or “The Weakest Link!”

As each day goes by, I miss the glory days of television more and more. The countless options available today is definitely a plus, but adds to the confusion of watching TV. Just selecting from what was on channels 2, 5, 7, 9, 11, 32 and 44 was plenty back then. It saved a great amount of time as these days I spend more time perusing the “Guide” than watching the programs themselves.

So last night, I decided to turn the TV off and thumbed through a current issue of People Magazine.

I didn’t know anybody there, either. The Marlboro Man is a woman now! Where are these “People” coming from?

The world is just getting too big for me. Wheeeeeeere’s Johnny?

• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp., the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles and the Des Plaines Theatre. Celebrity questions and comments? Email

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.