Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Great TV Shows: Part 1 - The Comedies

I recently wrote a post about the six movies I'd pick if I was on a desert island with nothing else to watch. I got to thinking about the TV shows that might make the "desert Island" list. I've been watching television for over fifty years, and I've seen hundreds of shows come and go. After considerable thought, I concluded that there were just too many to settle on only six. To make things a bit easier, Ive decided to do different posts for different show categories. Since I love to laugh, comedy shows will be first.

I've spoken at length in other posts about my all time favorite comedy show, "The Honeymooners" featuring the Great One, Jackie Gleason, briliantly assisted by Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, and Joyce Randolph. This show was about characters we could identify with, and the chemistry between them. In my opinion, The Honeymooners is probably the best television comedy ever. The sets were sparse, (mostly the bare Kramden kitchen or "my Disneyland" as Alice once described it) the picture was in black and white, but the laughs never failed as Ralph chased his elusive dreams. The true test of this show's greatness is that it plays as well today as when it first ran fifty years ago. Hands down, the number one comedy on my list.

Probably every comedy lover would put "I Love Lucy" on the list, and I'm no exception. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, along with Vivian Vance and William Frawley kept America laughing for six years, four of which saw it as the most watched show in the country. Other TV shows had funny families and good writers, but they didn't have Lucy, maybe the best comedic actress ever. We can all recite our favorite episodes that saw Lucy get herself into impossible situations, and somehow get through them with hilarious results. Desi was the business brains of the outfit who used innovative camera techniques and a keen knowledge of the show's audience to put "I Love Lucy on top."

My sentimental favorite is "The Jack Benny Show", I think partly because my parents loved him so much, and partly because I remember enjoying him on the radio as a kid. Jack was a man who was universally loved in show business, a rarity to be sure. The persona of "the cheapskate" that he created for the show was so far from his real character, yet he worked hard to cultivate it and let everyone get the laughs at his expense. His ensemble cast including Eddie Rochester, Mary Livingstone (Jack's real wife) Dennis Day, Mel Blanc and announcer Don Wilson complimented Jack's talent so perfectly.

"Your Show of Shows" was done live every week for 60 re-takes, no video tape, just the wonder boy of comedy, Sid Caesar, with Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris doing the most inventive, cutting-edge skits, and working without a net. If something went wrong on the live broadcast, they ad-libbed a brilliant solution. It didn't hurt to have writers like Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart and Mel Brooks creating some of the zaniest bits ever seen in prime time. When Imogene left the show, Nannette Fabray did a hell of a job filling a big pair of shoes. Sid had his demons in his personal life, but there were few who could equal his prodigious gift for comedy.

Take an unknown young comedienne who got her first big break on the Gary Moore Show, add an unbelievably versatile supporting cast including Harvey Korman, Vicky Lawrence, Tim Conway and Lyle Waggoner and you have number five on my TV comedy list, "The Carol Burnett Show". Week after week, this group created some of the best sketch comedy ever seen on television. The rubber-faced Burnett created some memorable characters, but the send ups of old movies were my absolute favorites. I never get tired of watching Carol as Scarlett O'Hara, walking down the stairs wearing the green velvet curtains with the rod still in them, and reciting the line: "I saw it in the window and just had to have it."

Last but not least comes "Seinfeld" the consistently funny series about four selfish, neurotic people played by Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards. The series co-creator, Larry David, has a penchant for looking at the everyday events in life and giving them a slight twist to produce funny and insightful comedy. Again, we can all recite our favorite episodes of this groundbreaking show that was often imitated ("Friends") but never equalled. David scored again by writing and starring in his new show, "Curb Your Enthusiasm". In the field of comedy, he was truly "master of his domain."

There were other TV comedies that I enjoyed like The Odd Couple, Cheers, Taxi, the Bob Newhart Show, Married with Children and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but sadly they won't be making the desert island trip.


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