Monday, August 25, 2014

The Alphabet Game: Situation Comedy Edition

Hello, and welcome to The Alphabet Game, where I take a look at 26 different things in one common category. This edition is all about that TV phenom known as the situation comedy, or sitcom, if you will. Have fun...

A is for Amos & Andy - Why not start out with a bit of controversy? Yeah, many have called this show racist, and that kept it off the air for several decades, but really, this show is not as racist as many have claimed. Yes, the radio version, with two white guys who would talk in cheap dialect, and do public appearances, was a bit on the racist side, even for the time period, but the TV show, not as much. Granted, the two main characters were stereotypes. Andy was a not-so-bright layabout, and Kingfish was a conniving huckster, but the rest of the cast was not like this. Amos, who was actually a rather minor character (It should have been called the Kingfish & Andy Show), was a smart and savvy small business owner and happily married family man. The show also had many other respectable business people, including lawyers and doctors. But I can see the problem. Sure, there were stupid or lazy or conniving white characters on TV in the 1950's. You had Gleason on The Honeymooners or Bendix on Life of Riley, but for every one of them, you also had a Robert Young or an Ozzie Nelson. Meanwhile, Amos & Andy had Kingfish, but there were no other black characters to counterbalance him. But even past all this controversy, the question remains...was the show funny? I must say, yes. Yes indeed.

B is for Betty White - Whether she was the snarky young wife in the mostly forgotten 1950's sitcoms, Life With Elizabeth and Date with the Angels, or the bitchy Sue Ann Nivens in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, or the dumb but sweet Rose Nylund in The Golden Girls, or the acerbic Elka Ostrovsky in TV Land's Hot in Cleveland, or any one of her myriad of game show appearances throughout the years, this 5-time Emmy Award winner, is a goddamn hoot and a half.

C is for Central Perk - Yeah, it's one of those impossible New York spots. Sitting in one of the trendiest areas of Manhattan, this coffee shop seems to always be bustling, but yet the chairs and couch in the center of the place are never occupied by anyone but the six starring friends of the show. Really? No one else is allowed to sit there? Ever? Joey or Phoebe might get angry? Chandler or Monica might cry? Yeah, one of those impossible New York places. Gotta love 'em..well, unless you are someone other than Ross and Rachel and the gang. Hell, even Fun Bobby was allowed to sit there once, but never anyone outside our friendly little circle.

D is for Daniel Boom - Back in 1980, when I was just a thirteen year old TV addict, I had decided to create my own network. It was called NBS, or the National Broadcasting System. I created a whole slew of shows to fill out my 1980-81 Fall schedule. Somewhere along the line, I lost the notebooks in which I had all these shows listed. Only one show has lasted the test of time. It is a show called Daniel Boom. Set in an old west town, this wacky sitcom starred Richard Mulligan as the title character, the rather inept new sheriff of the town. A year later, ABC stole my idea, and refashioned it into Best of the West, a one season wonder in 1981. I have no actual proof I created my show first, but we all know how networks can get. Anyhoo, after thirty some years, I have decided to bring NBS back into the "real world," and have therefore created a whole new Fall schedule for the 2014-15 television season. There are a slew of brand new shows, but Daniel Boom is back among them, with a whole new cast. To check out the entire NBS Fall line-up, go to my official NBS page.

E is for Eddie Haskell - Gee Mrs. Cleaver, you look wonderful today. Let's face it, Eddie Haskell wasn't just being a suck-up, that boy wanted to get a piece of that hot Mrs. Cleaver. Yeah, that's right, baby. Eddie wanted to tap...um, well...uh...I'm sure there's some sort of beaver/cougar joke in there somewhere, but I don't feel like figuring it out, so go ahead and make your own joke. Now, let's move onto the F-word...

F is for Forgotten TV - Okay, technically the book I am writing on the so-called lost treasures (and sometimes trash) of television history, is not a fully formed situation comedy creature. There are action shows, dramas, variety shows, holiday specials, and sci-fi shows in there as well. But I didn't want to waste an opportunity to plug the damn thing, so... Hey, I'm writing a book. It's called "Forgotten TV: 101 TV Shows You Probably Don't Remember." It is a somewhat irreverent, but still thoroughly critical look at those one season wonders (or less) of TV history. Those shows that are probably better left forgotten, and those that were unfairly canceled all too soon. I hope to have it available in the Spring of 2015. Keep your eyes peeled. Now let's get on with the sitcom theme of today's episode.

G is for The Goldbergs - The first hit situation comedy on TV was a show called The Goldbergs. It was based on Molly Berg's already famous radio program, that ran from 1929 to 1946, and was about a lower middle class Jewish family in New York. It was also a play, a movie, and eventually a play in 1973. The TV version began in 1949, two years before a certain redhead came onto TV, and was quite groundbreaking in its day. Due to the political landscape of the time, the show went off the air for nearly a year, because Berg refused to fire Philip Loeb, the now blacklisted actor who played her husband. Eventually, after the Loeb decided to leave the show, so his friend Molly did not have to blow her own career by helping him, the show came back on the air, and would continue until 1956. Cut to the 2013-14 TV season, and a new sitcom, also called The Goldbergs, would debut. This show, having nothing to do with the 1950's series, was set in the 1980's, and was based on writer-producer Adam F. Goldberg's childhood. How's that for a sitcom bookending?

H is for Herman's Head - A show about a magazine researcher, and the four personalities roaming around in his head, all of which are played by actors fighting for control of good ole Herman's head. How can this not be pure gold!? Often mentioned when the topic of bad shows come up, but I remember this early 1990's Fox program quite fondly. In fact, to plug that book again, Herman's Head is one of those 101 aforementioned forgotten shows.

I is for It's About Time - Somewhere between the end of Gilligan's Island and the start of The Brady Bunch, show creator Sherwood Schwartz, gave us It's About Time, a show about two astronauts who accidentally travel back in time to the days of the caveman. Using many of the tossed aside Gilligan's Island sets, teh show was a total fiasco. Halfway through its one season, the premise was changed. Now the astronauts are back in modern times, but they have brought the cavemen back with them. This didn't work either, and the show was canceled. It did have a fun little theme song diddy, though. And yes, this one will be in my Forgotten TV book.

J is for Jumping the Shark - There is a term in TV history/criticism. It is called Jumping the Shark. I'm sure you've heard of such a thing. The term is used when a good show begins to overstay its welcome. Many shows have jumped the shark. Murphy Brown, All in the Family, Miami Vice, Three's Company. But the show that began it all, the show from which the term comes, both figuratively AND literally, is Happy Days. It was the beginning of the show's fifth season, when Fonzie and the gang headed out to Hollywood, and the Fonz actually jumped a shark on water skis. It was from this moment on, that the show began going down in quality. Or at least they said it did. Actually, I think the show began going downhill once Fonzie was made the star of the show (along with Richie) instead of staying the supporting character he should have been. Now, any show that begins to decline, is called out for jumping the shark. There is also a sub-genre, of sorts, in the whole jumping the shark shebang. It is called the Ted McGinley Conundrum. Some shows, instead of literally jumping the shark, just add poor hapless Ted McGinley to the cast, and it works just as well. Whether he is Ace, ship's photographer, on The Love Boat or Jefferson D'Arcy on Married... with Children, or even Roger on Happy Days itself, the show be doomed, maties. As a sidenote, Henry Wrinkler, as a nod to his Fonzie character, jumped over a dead shark on a 2003 episode of Arrested Development.

K is for Kevin Arnold - There are not many sitcom characters named Kevin, and even less with my unique spelling of the name, so when one comes along, I should probably savor it. So, back in 1988, The Wonder Years debuted on TV, and lo and behold, there was young Kevin Arnold, played by Fred Savage. Set in 1968, and running for six years, this was the story of boyhood. Granted, the show was on well after I was Kevin's age, and was set well before I was his age, but still, the show was rather universal, and his name was Kevin, after all. Too bad he couldn't spell it correctly.

L is for Lucy Lucy Lucy Lucy (and Lucy) - First there was I Love Lucy, from 1951 to 1957, then The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, from 1957 to 1960. After a year away from the tube, Lucy was back with The Lucy Show, from 1962 to 1968, followed by Here's Lucy (the one I grew up on in new episodes), from 1968 to 1974. This means, that Lucille Ball was on television from 1951 through 1974, almost non-stop, missing just one year. Actually, since I Love Lucy has never been off the air, becoming reruns immediately after leaving the air, and since somewhere in America, the show is playing nearly every single day in syndication, the grand red head has never really been off the air. Let's just leave her 1986 thirteen episode dud, Life With Lucy, out of the equation.

M is for Must See TV - Created by NBC back in 1993, this advertising slogan-cum-houshold term, was first used to get everyone watching the Peacock Network on Thursday nights. Granted, NBC had already been calling Thursday nights, the best night in TV, as far back as the 1983-84 season, with shows like Fame, Taxi, Cheers, and Hill Street Blues, but it became official in 1993, with Seinfeld, Mad About You, Wings, and Frasier. Eventually shows like Friends and ER would be included. NBC's Must See TV ended with the 2013-14 television season, as TV is not really watched on TV, on certain nights, as it was back in the day. It's a brave new world.

N is for Norman Lear - When one thinks back on the great sitcoms of the 1970's, one invariably thinks about shows that were created and produced by Norman Lear, the one-time master of TV. I mean really, with shows under your belt like All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Maude, The Jeffersons, Good Times, One Day at a Time, Mary Hartman Mary Hartman, Diff'rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, and Who's the Boss, how could you not be the king of TV? There was also Square Pegs, but I might be the only one who liked that one. Granted, some of these later shows may be kind of silly, but Lear's early 1970's hits were truly groundbreaking television.

O is for Ork, and its Most Famous Resident, Mork - Alas, poor Robin Williams. We knew ye well. Mork began as a guest star on Happy Days (later on in their fifth shark jumping season), where he tried to steal the Fonz, and take him back to Ork for probing perhaps(?), before getting his own spin-off series, where he co-starred with the always lovely Pam Dawber, as Mindy. And yes, I did have a crush on Mindy. And yes, I did own, and sport, a pair of Mork's rainbow suspenders. And yes, I have always been a geek. So, let's all lift a glass to the late great Robin Williams. Na-Nu, Na-Nu.

P is for The Patty Duke Show Theme Song - As of the writing of this post, I am in the middle of a countdown over on Facebook, where I am counting down my 50 favourite TV theme songs. Coming in at #35 just the other day, The Patty Duke theme may not be my favourite (though only 34 shows, from the vastness of television history, are above it) but then, any song with the line, "A hot dog makes her lose control," is just alright with me.

Q is for Quark - It only ran for 8 episodes in the Winter and Spring of 1978, but this silly sci-fi sitcom, was quite hilarious. Well, at least I enjoyed the damn thing, even if no one else did. One of many shows to spawn from the success of Star Wars, Quark has gained a bit of a cult following (though only a bit of one) but is still mostly forgotten these days. And I think we all know what that means by now. Yup, this will be in my upcoming Forgotten TV book.

R is for Ralph Kramden - In my oh so humble opinion, Ralph Kramden is the most iconic figure in sitcom history...maybe even in all of television history. Jackie Gleason's antics as the Brooklyn bus driver with delusions of grandeur, but secretly (or not so secretly) with a heart as big as the Moon to which he so often threatened to send his wife, is my favourite sitcom character of all-time. Hey, now there's a fun list I could do. My 50 favourite TV characters. Oh, but I've already given away my number one. Or did I? Insert maniacal laughter here.

S is for Soap - Back in 1977, when Soap came on the air, I was just 10 years old. Apparently, according to my mother, this was a bit too young to watch the more adult-oriented satiric soap opera sitcom. So, me being me, I would sneak watching it. Granted, at ten, I really didn't get many of the jokes yet, but dammit, if I wasn't allowed to watch the show, I was definitely going to watch it! By season two, I no longer had to sneak around. I guess 11 is old enough to watch the show. Eventually, in syndication in the early 1980's, I finally got to watch all the episodes as a whole, and by then, I actually got all the jokes. 

T is for TV Land - Spawning from Nick at Night, TV Land debuted in 1996, and as Nick at Night started getting away from classic shows, and began showing more modern shows, TV Land became the new showcase for the classic sitcoms of our childhood. Eventually TV Land too, went the way of Nick at Nite, and began pandering to younger audiences, with the addition of shows from the 1990's. Hell, Nick at Nite is adding How I Met Your Mother to its line-up this Fall, a show that just went off the air in may. Meanwhile, over at TV Land, the network has started to make their own sitcoms. Some are good, some not so much. Original TV Land shows like Hot in Cleveland, The Exes, and Jennifer Falls are all good, if not great sitcoms.

U is for Up Your Nose, With a Rubber Hose - All the best situation comedies have a catchphrase or two. Some of them may even have dozens (um, Seinfeld!). But my favourite may very well be the rather bizarre "Up Your Nose with a Rubber Hose," taunt from the Sweathogs over at James Buchanan High on Welcome Back Kotter. As a rather impressionable seven year old when the show came on the air, it was definitely my favourite. My mother...not so much.

V is for Vitameatavegamin - "Lucy Does A TV Commercial," is a classic I Love Lucy episode from the show's first season (originally airing on May 5, 1952). It happens to be one of the funniest Lucy episodes ever, as well as one of the funniest episodes of any sitcom, ever.Nothing more need be said here. You should just go and watch the episode. Now. Seriously, go watch it. I'll wait.

W is for Wilfred - Here's an idea for a sitcom. Take Elijah Wood, and make him best friends with a dog. Not so strange, until you realize that the dog is actually actor and series creator Jason Gann in a big fuzzy dog outfit. Meanwhile, everyone else sees Wilfred as an actual dog. The series, which ran for 4 seasons, was a sardonic, acerbic comedy. A brilliant comedy, that not near enough people have seen. Even though the show just went off the air a few weeks ago, this show may be included in my aforementioned Forgotten TV book. We'll see.

X is for the Intro to Scrubs - Yeah, so I'm kinda cheating here. Sure, it was easy to find an X topic when I was doing my Comic Book Edition of the Alphabet Game. A little too easy. But now, with the topic turned to sitcoms, the task becomes a bit more difficult. I'm sure there is a Xander hidden away in some 1990's forgotten sitcom, or maybe even a Mr. X in some equally forgotten sci-fi sitcom of the past, but otherwise... well, otherwise, I am forced to go with the x-ray machine that is at the finale of the theme song and intro to the sitcom, Scrubs. Yeah, it's kinda cheating. Get over it.

Y is for Yabba Dabba Doo - Granted, there were a handful of animated shows that aired in primetime in the late 1950's, but mostly these were just daytime cartoons, that were replayed in the evenings. The first real primetime animated show, the first one to actually be made specifically for primetime, and the first one to be an actual situation comedy, was The Flintstones. Debuting on ABC in the Fall of 1960, this Hanna-Barbera cartoon sitcom would be the most successful animated show on television for the next thirty years, until The Simpsons came along and changed everything. Yabba Dabba Doo!

Z is for Zorro and Son - There are a few more sitcommy choices for the letter Z than there were back at X, but I still decided to go with one that may very well fit into my Forgotten TV book. This westernesque sitcom ran for just five episodes back in 1983, and let me tell you, from someone who has seen these five episodes, this was probably five too many...maybe even six or seven too many. So, I figured I would close with, not a bang, but a whimper.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

4 comments:

  1. Wow. Too many good points about today's entries to touch on them all. Spot-on review of Amos & Andy, for example. Wilfred sounds a bit like Calvin & Hobbes! And I've always wondered how many fans of the Vitameatavegamin skit were familiar with Red Skelton's Guzzler's Gin routine? Great post, even if you do list Betty White and Eddie Haskell under B and E instead of W and H. Ha.

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  2. I never heard of Wilfred and now wish I could see some episodes. Eddie was a horny kid who would have loved to twist Ms. Cleaver's pearls. I actually enacted the Vitameatavegamen when I was in the Lucy/Desi museum...it was quite fun:) Oh...I put up my 10 favourite films of James garner (1 st of 3 who recently died). I would love to know what you think and have to add.

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  3. Fox - It's called creative alphabetization.

    B - You can watch Wilfred on Netflix and Hulu. I will check out your Jim Garner list asap.

    Thanx for stopping by. See ya 'round the web.

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  4. We saw one of Quark's eight episodes, and it was one of the funniest shows I've seen. It really should have had a better chance.

    And I agree: "Amos 'n Andy" was no more racist than "Sanford and Son" or "The Jeffersons," and it was very funny. I saw an interview with Gregory Hines, and he said he loved the show because the characters looked like him. It was a funny show with a predominantly African American cast, something you didn't see on TV before then, and didn't see for another ten years.

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