Martin Luther King, Jr: TV shows that've paid tribute to the civil rights leader's famous speech

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Martin Luther King, Jr. is honored each year with a federal holiday on the third Monday in January. But the civil rights leader has also been depicted on television many times since his assassination in 1968, with his famous "I Have a Dream" speech excerpted on several TV shows and in movies.

Dr. King's 17-minute "I Have a Dream" speech -- in which he passionately called for an end to racism in the United States -- has been excerpted on several popular TV shows, including "The Wonder Years" and "The Cosby Show."

In 1988, "The Wonder Years" episode "Our Miss White" opened with footage from the famous speech, with a smitten Kevin later coerced into being in his pretty English teacher's play about Dr. King. (Kev's part: Robert Kennedy.)

The 1986 "Cosby Show" episode "Vanessa's Bad Grade" debuted four days before the first time Martin Luther King Jr. Day was observed as a federal holiday, so it was fitting that the episode ended with the entire Huxtable clan tearfully gathered on the couch to watch his powerful speech on TV. A stolen sweater and a bad grade suddenly didn't seem all that important.

Other TV shows have referenced Martin Luther King's speech in a passing manner. During its 10-season run, the sitcom "Friends" made two references to "I Have a Dream."

In the first season episode "The One With the Stoned Guy," Chandler (Matthew Perry) complains that he doesn't have any goals or dreams, and Ross (David Schwimmer) replies, "Ah, the lesser-known 'I don't have a dream' speech."

And in the Season 5's "The One With the Cop," Joey (Matt LeBlanc) says he "kind of had a dream. But I don't wanna talk about it." To which Chandler says, "Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa. What if Martin Luther King had said that?"

Then there's "Mad Men." Set right in the thick of the turbulent 1960s and the civil rights movement, it would have been a glaring omission if the AMC drama didn't somehow reference one of the most famous speeches of the era. In the Season 3 episode "Wee Small Hours," the self-absorbed Don Draper does catch part of Dr. King's speech on the radio, but, disinterested, he turns it off. Later, the family's maid, Carla, is found listening to King's ''Eulogy for the Martyred Children'' at the close of the episode.

Questionable MLK, Jr. references abound, however. In 1997, the sketch comedy series "MADtv" featured a skit about Martin Luther King Jr. (played by Aries Spears), in which he tried out a speech on the Def Jam comedy circuit. Another episode spoofed an annual Martin Luther King Day special, starring Nicole Sullivan as a clueless Celine Dion, who didn't realize the civil rights leader had been slain.

On a more serious note, Martin Luther King, Jr. has been portrayed by a variety of actors in TV series' and movies. Paul Winfield starred as the civil rights leader in the NBC mini-series "King," and Jeffrey Wright played him in the 2001 HBO movie "Boycott," Other actors who have starred as King include Courtney Vance, Clifton Powell, and Robert Guillaume.

In 2013, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day will be observed on Jan. 21.

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