Saturday, November 27, 2010

Less is Moore and other oldies observations

Harper, Moore and Leachman: made it after all
I've been checking out CTV's new specialty channel Comedy Gold since it launched last August, especially reruns of the old "Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Bob Newhart Show."
Both were Saturday night staples when I was a kid and I was curious to see how they held up.
One thing about both shows: aside from the occasional glimpse of Phyllis' precocious daughter Bess (Lisa Gerritsen), there are no children in either cast. Newhart has said it was a condition of doing the series--he didn't want his character to come home to The Brady Bunch. It also kept the focus squarely on the adults--which perhaps made it even more fascinating for this young teen at the time. 
The other thing that stands out, besides the clothing and home decor styles (which don't seem as out of date as they did 10 or 20 years ago) is the pace of both shows. Scenes last up to five minutes at a time, forever in today's attention deficit challenged world of television.
I talked this over with Dan For Mayor showrunner Mark Farrell earlier this week and spun a few of his comments into a column for The Canadian Press. You can read that full story here.
Farrell pointed out two things: sitcoms are shorter today by at least three minutes, which cuts out any time for texture. Writers have to serve the A-, B- or C- storylines and that's it, he says. There are modern exceptions like The Office and Craig Daniel's animated sitcom King of the Hill. Farrell noted how Daniels likes to take his time and focus on one story per episode, which might be a formula to follow in order to leave room for texture in today's TV comedies.
There probably is a happy inbetween when it comes to today's TV comedies. I sometimes find the Seinfeld-inspired woosh-woosh of speedy scene changes a bit forced. It feels like a trick to keep my attention, which it often is.
On the other hand, there are moments watching MTM or Newhart when you can go out and make a sandwich in the middle of a scene and come back and not feel you've missed anything,
On another topic, I wish all these nostalgia channels--TV Land Canada, TVTropolis, Deja View and now Comedy Gold--would mix up their offerings once in a while. How many times can you rerun the same Three's Company episode?
Best left in the vault, as far as I'm concerned, is Designing Women, which today for me is like watching a party go bad. Murphy Brown is also deadly dull in reruns.
Deals with studios get made and shows get locked in for years, it seems, on nostalgia channels. They don`t draw huge ratings so networks like Global and CTV keep costs down by trotting them all out forever--which is maybe why they don`t draw bigger numbers. I'd love to see some less obvious shows from the past make the nostalgia channel cut in Canada. A few suggestions:
  • The Larry Sanders Show. As funny and savage today as when it first aired on HBO in the '90s. Loving it now on DVD (the extras on the Shout Factory release are worth the price alone, which, by the way, I saw at half the suggested retail price at Costco last week).
  • The Courtship of Eddie`s Father. This early '70s sitcom, which starred Bill Bixby as a single dad to young Brandon Cruz, was one of a handful of shows which launched in 1969 that were HBO before HBO. Thoughtful, about something, subtle, nuanced, they deserve to be rediscovered. I have one episode of this series on 16mm and it is a quiet revelation, especially when you consider that the No. 1 comedy in America at the time this series launched was Gomer Pyle USMC.
  • Room 222 and My World and Welcome To It (starring William Windom as a character based on cartoonist James Thurber) were two other too smart for the room comedies launched in '69 that should be on TV Land or whatever today.
  • You don`t have to go back to the '60s to find deserving reruns. One of these networks should rotate one or two season wonders into the mix. I'd nominated several recent Fox shows, including Wonderfalls, The Tick and Keen Eddie, all brilliant in their way.
  • A Judd Apatow block combining Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared would also be welcome. Throw My So Called Life in to pad things out for a fuller "teen angst" run.
  • I wish Canadian stations like CHCH had not erased almost the entire run of Party Game or Tiny Talent Time or virtually all those Canadian kids shows from the '60s had not disappeared, but a regularly scheduled wheel of  "Lost Canadiana" would definitely get my attention.
  • Finally, I miss those old "overnight, black and white" game show reruns they used to show on GSN. Bring back Whats My Line?, a true time capsule with all those famous panelists and guests of the era. I`d like to see more b&w TV pried out of the vault, including The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Honeymoorers, and I Love Lucy, but less obvious choices, too, like Ernie Kovaks shows from the '50s or reruns of Jack Paar or Steve Allen's old talk shows.
Have other favourites you'd like to see resurrected on Deja View, Comedy Gold or where ever? Feel free to add your choices at the comment button below.
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