'Pioneers of Television' remembered: Funny lady Cloris Leachman tells how it was ... and is

cloris-leachman-red-carpet-325-nc.jpgPBS' "Pioneers of Television" is back for its third season this month -- now narrated by one of today's busiest personalities in that business, Ryan Seacrest -- with four new episodes devoted to some of the most memorable moments and people in popular TV genres.

"Funny Ladies," which kicks off the run of new episodes Tuesday, Jan. 15, begins with the first female comedians to appear on television, including Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller, whose final interview was for this episode. It also looks at Lucille Ball's breakthrough on "I Love Lucy" and the female sitcom stars who followed, including Mary Tyler Moore, Betty White and Marla Gibbs.

Cloris Leachman -- who is one of the funniest ladies in television history and is also featured in this episode -- speaks to the nature of being able to make people laugh versus more dramatic acting roles.

"Each one is important," she tells Zap2it. "It's not what I want to do to make anybody feel a certain way. But just to be comedic and then serious is great, great fun. And they're both easy, I think. The hard thing is if you don't have a well-written script or role. Then you have to dig inside yourself, and like, 'What the hell?' "

Next up on Jan 22 is "Primetime Soaps." This genre began with "Peyton Place" in the 1960s but enjoyed a long revival that started with "Dallas" and "Dynasty" in the late 1970s and early '80s and continued through the last season of "Knots Landing" in 1993. Interviewees include Joan Collins, Linda Evans, Diahann Carroll, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Michele Lee, Joan Van Ark, Donna Mills and the recently departed Larry Hagman.

"I think at the time that "Knots" was on the air," Lee says, "we had such incredible competition. We had "Hill Street Blues" and "L.A. Law" and still maintained [our ratings]. ... We have a situation [now] where "Dallas" was picked up for a second season on TNT. And, you know, the Web is filled with 'When is "Knots Landing" coming back?' and 'They're sure to pick up "Knots Landing." '[Fans] go crazy, you know."
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