Tuesday, April 20, 2021

TV Guided: The Golden Age of Sitcoms?


 Redartz: It wasn't too long ago that some folks claimed the sitcom to be dead. Turns out they were wrong; there are quite a few comedies on network tv worth the viewing in 2021. But as this is "Back in the Bronze Age" and not "Here in the Netflix Age", we're looking at some earlier programming (so as not to give the impression that I'm totally lost in the past, I think one could make a good argument that we are currently in a Golden Age of television drama, but that's another tale for another day).

Back to the sitcoms (or Situation Comedies, for those sticklers among us). Our title above mentions a Golden age; to what does that refer? Well, in my  humble opinion, to the 1970's. Granted, every decade has had it's share of enjoyable, popular, even classic comedies. You might well choose to argue that my claim for the 70's misses the mark. Well, that is the crux for our topic this week. But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

Consider the decade that opened with "The Brady Bunch", "The Partridge Family", and "The Odd Couple". 


 Basically played for laughs, and those were found in abundance. But as the decade progressed, the comedies got more...socially conscious. More introspective. More biting. Think of "All in the Family" and "Maude". 


 And the comedies got more diverse; with "The Jeffersons" and "Chico and the Man". 


But the world of 70's sitcoms also had it's lighter fare. Nostalgia was a big draw, with "Happy Days" and "Laverne & Shirley". 


 So were 'urban comedies' such as "Taxi" and "Barney Miller". 


 And of course the decade ended with the sheer wackiness of Robin Williams in "Mork and Mindy".  Obviously the decade offered a wide choice of comic material...


As further evidence, I bring your attention to the CBS schedule for Saturday nights in the 1973 season. "All in the Family", "M*A*S*H", "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", "The Bob Newhart Show", and "The Carol Burnett Show" . Even granting that that last program was technically a variety show, that still must qualify as the greatest single night of televised comedy in broadcast history. Whatta lineup...

Anyway, the sheer abundance of strong comedies (and I have only scratched the surface here) in the 70's pretty much settles my case. Golden Age of Sitcoms? I'm going with the decade of Hawkeye Pierce, Rhoda Morganstern and the Fonz. 

You still disagree? Excellent; that's where our topic gets juicy. What decade, or era, would you say qualifies as a 'Golden Age' of comedy? If you agree with me, fine; why? And if you've other thoughts, then by all means convince us otherwise! 

And for our UK contingent: certainly don't intend to leave you out. Your BBC and ITV certainly offered some comic viewing, what were the best schedules? The best shows? Was there a particular era that stood out for you, programming-wise? The table is wide open to discuss the Greatest Eras of Comedy...


Colin Jones said...

We saw some of those sitcoms in the UK too, Red - Partridge Family, Happy Days, Mork & Mindy, Taxi, Laverne & Shirley not to mention others like M*A*S*H, Rhoda, Bilko, Munsters, Addams Family, Bewitched, Beverley Hillbillies, Soap and Different Strokes.
I'm a bit pressed for time at the moment so I'll come back later and mention British sitcoms.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Red — now THIS a challenge! I’m not sure I could pick just one decade as a “Sitcom Golden Age”. I could probably make a strong case for just about every decade from the 1950s to the present. Seriously!

But let’s start with your choice, the 70s. Yes, the CBS Saturday Night schedule is hard to beat. And ABC’s Friday Night schedule had my entire family glued to the tube from 8 to 11: NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR, BRADY BUNCH, PARTRIDGE FAMILY, ODD COUPLE, LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE. That’s a whole lot of wholesome entertainment (though LOVE AMERICAN STYLE was considered somewhat “daring” at the time). I would have to categorize most of these as “Guilty Pleasures” nowadays — I have to REALLY be in the mood to watch them. ROOM 222 was also part of the Friday Night line-up for awhile, and though it’s not really a sitcom (and thus beyond the scope of this discussion, I really shouldn’t being talking about it, but here we are) someone uploaded the entire first season to YouTube a few years ago and I ended up binge-watching every episode in a few days, and loved it.

Also, I realize LOVE AMERICAN STYLE wasn’t quite a sitcom either — but it had a laugh track, so I’m shoe-horning it in.

Other 70s sitcoms I loved and can still enjoy unreservedly in my dotage: WKRP IN CINCINATTI, and SOAP. We watched ALL IN THE FAMILY but I can’t say I was ever really a fan.

In the 80s, NBC’s Thursday Night was the line-up I watched most often : THE COSBY SHOW, FAMILY TIES, CHEERS, NIGHT COURT (followed by HILL ST. BLUES which absolutely wasn’t a sitcom in any way shape or form and won’t be discussed, though I adored it). I seem to recall NIGHT COURT being much more raucous in its first season, partly due to the presence of charmingly abrasive singer/actress Ellen Foley as the female lead (she was replaced by the cuddlier Markie Post in Season 2). Before NIGHT COURT came along, there was a terrific show called BUFFALO BILL in that slot, with Dabney Coleman and a young Geena Davis, which critics loved but audiences ignored in droves. When it got yanked, it was replaced by a decent series called THE DUCK FACTORY with the great Jack Gifford and Jim Carrey in his first starring role.

Other 80s sitcoms I liked : IT’S A LIVING and DUET (seems like no one remembers that last one but me).

Hop-scotching back to the 60s now, the era of the supposedly lowbrow “rural” sitcoms (BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, PETTICOAT JUNCTION and the mighty GREEN ACRES), the supernatural/paranormal sitcoms (BEWITCHED, I DREAM OF JEANNIE, MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR, MR. ED, MY MOTHER THE CAR, MY LIVING DOLL), horror/monster sitcoms (THE MUNSTERS, THE ADDAMS FAMILY), military sitcoms (McHALE’S NAVY, the notoriously tone-deaf HOGAN’S HEROES) and of course, GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. Looking back, I’m struck by one thought: how did I spend so many thousands of hours devouring TV shows and still have time to do other stuff?

My experience with UK sitcoms is pretty much limited to THE YOUNG ONES, KEEPING UP APPEARANCES, AS TIME GOES BY and the immortal FAWLY TOWERS.

That’s enough for now....more later!


“Plate....plate...that’s it! I’M CHESTER PLATE!”

Mike Wilson said...

Yeah, I'd say the 70s were pretty good for sitcoms, although the 80s had some winners too, as b.t. pointed out. Strangely, I don't remember watching some of the big sitcoms in the 70s (the Brady Bunch, Good Times, Bob Newhart Show), but most of the ones you mentioned were favourites of mine. I'd add Three's Company, One Day at a Time, Welcome Back Kotter, WKRP, and Alice as ones I really liked (and most of them hold up pretty well, especially WKRP).

Colin Jones said...

OK, I'm back! The '70s were a golden age for British sitcoms not just because there were several classic ones but also because the most popular sitcoms were often made into films to be released in cinemas which didn't happen in any other decade. So here are some of the most famous '70s sitcoms starting with the BBC then their rival ITV:

BBC sitcoms:

Steptoe & Son: the love/hate relationship between a father and son originally broadcast from 1962-65 and 1970-74 so this counts as both a '60s AND a '70s sitcom. The father, Albert Steptoe, was played by Wilfred Brambell who is also famous for playing Paul McCartney's grandfather in 'A Hard Day's Night'. Steptoe & Son was remade for American TV as Sanford & Son and there were two films - Steptoe & Son (1972) and Steptoe & Son Ride Again (1973).

Till Death Us Do Part: originally broadcast from 1965-68 and 1972-75 so again a '60s AND a '70s sitcom. Remade for American TV as All In The Family. In the BBC original the left-wing son-in-law was played by Tony Booth who later became the real father-in-law of Prime-Minister Tony Blair!

The Likely Lads: another sitcom originally from the '60s which came back in 1973 and 1974 under the new title Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads. Also a 1976 film called The Likely Lads.

Dad's Army: set during World War II this sitcom ran from 1968-77 so it lasted longer than World War II itself. Dad's Army is often repeated on the BBC and I've read that when the Queen dies the BBC intends to clear the TV schedules and broadcast only "appropriate" programming including episodes of this sitcom (but Prince Philip's recent death and the wall-to-wall coverage of it caused the biggest number of complaints in the BBC's history, over 110,000, so maybe the BBC will have to think carefully about how they react in the wake of the Queen's death. People have a lot of choice nowadays and we aren't living in the 1950s anymore when the BBC had a broadcasting monopoly). Dad's Army was also made into a 1971 film called...er, Dad's Army.

The Good Life: broadcast from 1975-77 this sitcom was about a suburban couple who decide to quit the rat race and become self-sufficient much to the disapproval of their snobbish neighbour Margo. So I suppose this sitcom was way ahead of its' time by dealing with the environmental agenda.

Porridge: set in a prison (Porridge means doing time in prison) and broadcast from 1974-77. There was also a film called Porridge but it wasn't released until 1979 by which time one of the sitcom's stars (Richard Beckinsale) had died aged just 33.

Fawlty Towers: set in a hotel and stars John Cleese. A bit over-rated in my opinion but it's regarded as a classic so I have to include it.

Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em: starred Michael Crawford as a totally hapless character called Frank Spencer. Michael Crawford became internationally famous in the '80s when he played the lead role in the musical Phantom Of The Opera.

To The Manor Born: an aristocratic woman loses her grand house and has to move into a much smaller one. Broadcast from 1979-81 so only just counts as a '70s sitcom.

The Liver Birds (pronounced Lie-ver Birds): a sitcom about two young women living in Liverpool.

It Ain't Half Hot Mum: sitcom about a group of British soldiers in South-east Asia at the end of World War II. In 1975 two of the cast, Windsor Davies & Don Estelle, reached #1 in the UK singles chart with a 1940s song called "Whispering Grass".

Obviously there were a lot more '70s BBC sitcoms but I've mentioned the most memorable ones (for me anyway). Now for the ITV sitcoms...

Colin Jones said...

Not so many classic '70s ITV sitcoms but here are some:

On The Buses: broadcast from 1969-73 and also made into THREE films - On The Buses, Mutiny On The Buses and Holiday On The Buses. The TV series and films have dated badly and nowadays they seem rather sleazy and misogynistic with two middle-aged men (Stan & Jack - yes, we had our own Stan & Jack) constantly leering at young women.

Rising Damp: sometimes described as ITV's only funny sitcom - it was about landlord Rigsby and his three tenants Alan, Phillip and Miss Jones. Phillip was black so this sitcom was quite progressive for its' time. Rising Damp was broadcast from 1974-78 and there was a film version released in 1980 but one of the sitcom's stars died before the film was made (Richard Beckinsale who I mentioned earlier) so his role was recast which seemed all wrong to me and the film was pointless anyway as the TV series had ended two years earlier.

Man About The House: a young man shares a flat with two women. Remade for American TV as Three's Company. There was also a film version called Man About The House in 1974.

George & Mildred: a spin-off from Man About The House featuring the further adventures of landlords George & Mildred Roper. The final episode was broadcast on Christmas Day 1979 and there was a film version in 1980 but by the time the film was released the actress playing Mildred (Yootha Joyce) had died of liver failure due to years of alcoholism.

Robin's Nest: yet another spin-off from Man About The House as the young man from the original series (called Robin) opens a restaurant called Robin's Nest.

Love Thy Neighbour: this notorious sitcom was about a white man in constant conflict with his black neighbour. Full of racist language and so dated and embarrassing that it'll never be broadcast again.

Two's Company: a sitcom about an American woman (played by Elaine Stritch) living in London with her snooty English butler.

Again, there were a lot more ITV sitcoms in the '70s but I think I've covered the main ones.

Anonymous said...

That was the golden age of the British sitcom Colin? Yikes!

Yeah, Fawlty Towers is a bit overrated... but its still way better than anything else on your lists, none of which did anything for me.
Its probably down to some sort of different cultural perspective, as I particularly couldn't stand the ones set in the war like Dad's Army - which still seems popular! - and It Ain't Half Hot Mum (I am such an ungrateful immigrant, lol).
And now I've just remembered there was one about the French resistance that you didn't mention, which was even worse, but the title escapes me just now.

Still, better to be positive - the one I really liked, perhaps predictably, was Citizen Smith. How could you forget about everyone's favourite South London urban guerilla, Colin? Power to the People!

And I recall getting a good laugh out of some of The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin.
(It was hard to take 2001: A Space Odyssey seriously with Leonard Rossiter in it...)

Then theres the Young Ones of course, but thats a different era really.


Anonymous said...

PS Ah, got it (and don't I wish hadn't) - 'Allo 'Allo, that was the title of the sitcom set in occupied France. With the hilarious nazis, and der boobies.
It was awful.


Redartz said...

Colin and Sean- wow, you've given us a veritable introductory course in British tv comedy! Interesting how many eventually made their way across the pond in some form or other. Only ones I've seen were "Fawlty Towers" and "The Young Ones". Probably because they were the only ones that were shown on PBS in the US, as far as I know.
Colin, you discussed the BBC's programming adjustment for the recent passing of Prince Philip. You state that episodes of "Dad's Army" might be considered appropriate programming for the Queen's passing. Fascinating. Over here the last time all 'normal' programming was obliterated was during 9/11. There was literally nothing on anywhere but news coverage. Apparently it was the same after JFK's assassination, although I was too young to remember...

B.t.- you could indeed make a case for most decades! You named many good reasons why. And regarding "Room 222"- you say it wasn't really so much of a sitcom? Wish I could recall it better; certainly did watch it and enjoyed it. Might have to binge it as you did and see. And hey, if I can include "The Carol Burnett Show", you can surely include "Love, American Style"!

Mike W- oh yeah, "WKRP" was the best. You're right, it does hold up well. We have the DVD; only downside is that it seems they lost the copyright use of the original music, so the pop songs heard during the show are gone. Alas.

McSCOTTY said...

I have to say in the UK there were some dodgy sitcoms that bordered on racism (Mind you language and Love thy Neighbour spring to mind). Of course in Scotland (and in the other nations of the UK) we had our own spin of sitcoms with Rab C Nesbit (about an alcoholic Glaswegian) funny but brutal at times and the ever popular Still Game (which has cult status here) about 2 old age pensioners. I doubt these would "travel" past Ireland (North and Republic) as even our English neighbours have trouble understanding them (although Rab C Nesbit was popular there for a while).

My favourite sitcoms are mostly from the US (you guys know funny) and cover most decades and include:

Big Bang Theory
Its always Sunny in Philadelphia
Happy Days
WKRP in Cincinnati
Barney Miller
I Dream of Genie
Hogan's Heroes
Still Game

Edo Bosnar said...

Yeah, I'd be willing to concede that the '70s probably had the best sitcoms of the Bronze Age; the mid- to late '60s had a few good and/or memorable personal favorites, like Gilligan's Island and Get Smart, but the '70s really seems to dominate across the board in terms of both variety and - at times - quality.
Besides everything mentioned above, I'd add two personal favorites that many might not agree are of the highest quality: What's Happening and the criminally short-lived SF spoof Quark.

Most of the big '80s sitcoms don't hold up as well for me, e.g., the Cosby Show (I found that it got too syrupy even back then, long before Cosby's felonious activities made it seem toxic), Family Ties and even the oft-lauded Cheers.
Now I think some of the best sitcoms from the '80s are the ones that nobody really appreciated at the time and that got yanked rather quickly, like Police Squad (which at least generated a cult following and then 3 movies), Sledgehammer or the obscure No Soap Radio.

Humanbelly said...

I almost need to back away from this topic, as I could probably spend the entire day pounding away at the keyboard on it, and use up all of our blog's band-width in the process, and ultimately clog up the worldwidewebbernet. . .

In the meantime, let me do a quick snippet hit now looking at Colin & Sean's BritCom offerings-!

-The PBS channels in the DC metro area, especially in the 80's through the aughts, depended HEAVILY on British sitcoms, and some of them stayed in constant rotation in spite of the relatively limited number of episodes even the most successful ones had. A number of the ones you cited were favorites of my wife and I-- particularly FAWLTY TOWERS, THE GOOD LIFE (called GOOD NEIGHBORS, here), and TO THE MANOR BORN.

-It is hilarious to me that neither of you two fellas mentioned the drip-dry polyester Methuselahiac elephant in the room: ARE YOU BEING SERVED? (!!!) I'll hazard a guess that it's a LOT like having to acknowledge an extremely embarrassing, inappropriate relative at the worst possible moment at a large social gathering. . . ? (Heh-) It was so popular here at one point that there where entire local public television pledge drives centered around AYBS marathons. . . A show where you end up watching it for HOW it's being done (on the cheap, under-rehearsed, with a broad wink, and apparently almost always in one take) as much as you do for its content. And yet--- it was indeed a show that you'd keep watching even as you marveled at its flaws. It's like eating a whole bunch of 7-11 chili dogs. . .

-James Bolam (THE LIKELY LADS) is a flippin' treasure. Until I'd come across THE LIKELY LADS on Youtube awhile back, I honestly had no idea that he was ever a "young" actor at one point-- ha! And-- he was pretty much the same guy we saw in NEW TRICKS and BORN & BRED (and a zillion guest appearances on other programs). . . same voice and delivery, just a lot more hair.

--- And see? I'm poised to keep rattling on, but responsibilities do call---

Til Later--


Charlie Horse 47 said...

Red is Rocking the House! Great presentation here!

I lack the background to consider one decade versus another but some observations are:

1) It appears most of the sitcoms still being re-run in prime time are split equally between 60s and 70s basically: Andy Griffith and Hogan's Heroes and Dick Van Dyke vs. Mash and Happy Days, LOL. Those 3 from the 60s have been in re-run since... the 60s! What staying power!

2) I have to give a nod to the 50s and the Honeymooners which is still on the tube.

3) And just for conversation, did the 70s have a cartoon sitcom like the 60s had the Flintstones (which was modeled on the Honeymooners)?

4) Lastly, a few weeks ago Happy Days re-ran the episode where Fonz and Richie double date Laverne and Shirley, as part of Fonz's plan to build Richie's dating confidence. Shirley (Cindy Williams) stole the show! Hilarious!

Charlie Horse 47 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charlie Horse 47 said...

I don't know much about British sitcoms, for sure.

But if "The Fast Show" is considered a sitcom, and the links our UK contingent shared here or at Steve Does Comics this past month are typical, that thing was a riot!

Suits You Sir!!!

McSCOTTY said...

Oh I can't believe I forgot to mention "Only fools and horses" and "The Office"(UK)

HB: If you liked "The Good life" then another gentle comedy was "Butterfly's" - for sheer cringe value then anything with the character Alan Partridge is worth a look.

Chalrie: I loved the Fast Show as well and Little Britain (although the latter got a bit tiresome to me after a few years) - another good UK sketch show was "Chewin' the fat"

If we are counting cartoon shows then Rick and Morty and the Disney kids cartoon " Gravity FALLS " . Does anyone remember "Wait till your father gets home" the cartoon sitcom of the early 70s.

How to you all feel about canned laughter? In the UK we took the laughter track out of M.A.S.H and when it was added again years later, there was a bit of an outcry and it was taken out again.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Canned Laughter?

It seems that if the one-liner is funny, I don't notice. If the one-liner was a lead balloon, then it becomes annoying.

But it would be interesting to watch those shows without canned laughter!

Maybe this is a parallel... I have immensely enjoyed watching live sports the past year without crowd noise and became suitably irritated, especially with England's Premiere League for Soccer, when they introduced crowd noise to liven up the broadcast. Being able to hear the players (a first) is quite interesting. Also, not having your ears ringing from the crowd noise, even from TV, is a treat!

McSCOTTY said...

Canned laughter that's what we call a laugher tracker that's added (I think it refer to "in the can" when you record something? ).

Football (soccer) is not the same without fans, the Scottish game has only recently added the sound of the crowd as the bad language was getting out of hand when televised lol - saying that the team I support rarely get smore that 4,000 a game so I can almost always here the players (unless we are playing the big Glasgow teams).

Humanbelly said...

ROOM 222 had sort of a dilemma, IIRC. I think it could be called a comedy/drama, but it was a half-hour show, more like a sit-com. And. . . it did lean into the comedy side quite a bit. What I distinctly remember is that it did not have a laugh-track-- until someone in management insisted they insert one in order to pump up the comedy (I suppose), and good lord, it was the most jarring, intrusive thing you can imagine.

That also reminds me that Bill Cosby's first solo sitcom (THE BILL COSBY SHOW-- 2 seasons?), did not use a laugh-track, even though it was more clearly modeled as a conventional sitcom. As a kid raised on canned laughter, pretty much, it was jarring to watch an obviously comic show that didn't use it, along with an actor who you associated with hearing live laughter (on his albums). As opposed to Room 222, it always felt like there was an element missing to the show.


Anonymous said...

I’m intrigued by short-lived sitcoms that I vaguely remember watching as a young’un, and are long forgotten (like LOVE ON A ROOFTOP and OCCASIONAL WIFE) — as well as some that I never even knew about until recently, that sound interesting (THE HERO and THE PRUITTS OF SOUTHAMPTON and others). These shows are all so off-the-radar that they’re almost impossible to find, even in this day and age where it seems practically EVERYTHING ever created is available to view online in some form or another. And of course, their very ultra-scarcity makes me want to watch them even more!

Then again, some itches are better left un-scratched. About ten years ago, I bought a bootleg dvd of CAPTAIN NICE, a show I fondly remembered watching as a kid. Let’s just say that watching it now, it’s no surprise that it was cancelled so quickly. MY LIVING DOLL is another I remembered fondly, but even with the stunning Julie Newmar as the title character, it’s hard for me to enjoy watching it these days.

There were two short-lived sitcoms that my brothers and I liked in the late 60s (and that my parents HATED!) — THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW with Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard and THE GOOD GUYS with Bob Denver and Herb Edelman. Something tells me I’d probably agree with my parents if I watched them now :)


Edo Bosnar said...

Charlie, to answer your question about a '70s cartoon sitcom: yes, there was a two-and-change seasons ('and change because the 'third season' only had four episodes) series called "Wait Till Your Father Gets Home" that ran from 1972 to 1974. The voice of the family's dad is provided by none other than Howard Cunningham himself, Tom Bosley.

I have very vague early childhood memories of occasionally watching it with my older siblings on our grainy b&w TV, and then I caught a few episodes on Nick at Nite in the 1990s. Based on the episodes I've rewatched, I thought it held up pretty well. What I found particularly funny, and still incredibly topical, is that there is a next-door neighbor who's an ultra-conservative John Bircher-type who's into all kinds of conspiracy theories.

Humanbelly said...

MCSCOTTY-- (a small tangent)--

My wife and I watched the first season of HAMISH MACBETH a couple of months ago (really like it a lot--), and lordy, sometimes it's like, "Okay, if we can listen to the scene just one more time (3rd or 4th), I think I MIGHT be able to catch enough words to get the gist of what they're saying. . . " (Ha! Mind you, GREY'S ANATOMY has the same problem, because the actors' diction is often so appalling. . . )


Edo Bosnar said...

As for British sitcoms, I'm less familiar with those from the 1960s or 1970s, with the exception of Fawlty Towers. Out of those already mentioned, I really like "Only Fools and Horses" and "The Young Ones."
Another one from the 1980s that I liked, although I found it more clever and amusing than laugh-out-loud funny, is the political satire "Yes Minister"/"Yes Prime Minister" (a much more in-your-face funny political sitcom is "The New Statesmen" starring Rik Mayall from the late '80s/early '90s).

Anonymous said...

Yes, ROOM 222 was what they used to call a “dramedy” — it had elements of both comedy and drama, leaning more toward the latter in the first season, at least. As you said, it was a half-hour show and was structured somewhat like a sitcom, but without a laugh track and mostly played pretty “straight”. Unlike a typical sitcom, it didn’t feel the need to get a cheap laugh every 30 seconds. Many episodes had barely any jokes at all, and dealt with dramatic situations and storylines that could uncharitably be described as “Afternoon Special” type material. I didn’t remember it ever having a laugh track — yikes, that must have been awful.

Laugh tracks in general are a hit-and-miss thing for me. For the most part, they have always been so ubiquitous on sitcoms since we were kids that I usually manage to just accept them or filter them out. But I was streaming old episodes of THE ADDAMS FAMILY recently and the laugh track was so loud and intrusive, it ruined the experience for me.

One thing I’ve noticed about laugh tracks — if a show is particularly un-funny, the supposedly spontaneous uproarious laughter from the studio audience can actually accentuate how bad the writing is. I watched TWO AND A HALF MEN just a few times, and found the screaming peals of laughter over the tamest, lamest, laziest jokes to be extremely off-putting.
If they’re trying that hard to convince you that something is hilariously funny, it often means it just plain isn’t.

One of my favorite “recent” sitcoms was THE MIDDLE. I appreciated the absence of a laugh track, it absolutely didn’t need one. The current YOUNG SHELDON works just fine without one, too.

Oh — and we watched that earlier Cosby show too — I didn’t remember it not having a laugh track — I don’t remember much else about it either, come to think of it! Was he a school teacher or something? I DO remember the funky theme song, with Cosby’s improvised scat-gibberish lyrics. “Oooh Lord!”


Anonymous said...

WAIT TIL YOUR FATHER GETS HOME was syndicated — here in the L.A. area, it ran in a late afternoon time-slot just before the local news. Hmmm — Wikipedia says it started off as a segment of LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE. Well doggie, I did not know that! Quick — what other (MUCH more popular) 70s sitcom also started out as a segment L, AS?

Before WTYFGH, there was a short-lived Hanna Barbera prime-time cartoon called WHERE’S HUDDLES? Think “Pro Football Flinstones”.


McSCOTTY said...

HB - If you found Hamish MacBeth hard to understand you better stay away from sitcoms like Still Game, Rab C Nesbit and most shows produced in Scotland - Hamish was our posh sounding program as well ! :) I always find it amusing when an American ask for directions etc in Glasgow there faces (understandably at times) just look bemused when you reply and then we have to say it all again in the Queens English lol.

If you think UK and US are 2 countries divided by a common language the UK are 4 nations of 40 plus regions divided by various languages and dialects - its a wonder we can ever get anything done !

b,t didn't the Simpsons start off as segment in the Tracy Ulman show ?

Anonymous said...

Are You Being Served? Ay-yi-yi HB, don't go there.

Charlie, The Fast Show is a sketch show no? Something the Brits seem to do better than sitcoms.
On the subject of football (football), are you at all aware of my current fave comedy, European Super League?
Junk bonds for goalposts, isn't it, hmmm?


Mike Wilson said...

@Colin Jones: I've never seen any regular episodes of On the Buses, but I have seen the three movies and you're right about how problematic they are in hindsight, but they had some pretty funny moments and some great dialogue ("I like your yellow braid, Blakey ... it matches your teeth.") My dad drove a bus in the 60s in Carlisle, so I suppose the show resonated with him.

Anonymous said...

Why yes, THE SIMPSONS did indeed begin life as an animated sketch on THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW. It’s not the answer I was looking for, but is nevertheless 100% correct :)

So — a one-off segment of LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE that begat a wildly popular 70s sitcom — which in turn begat THREE spin-offs.....


Anonymous said...

Oh, and on the subject of hard-to-understand dialogue tracks — The Missus and I get a kick out of the Irish sitcom DERRY GIRLS, currently streaming on Netflix. It’s often “wet yourself laughing” funny, but good lord, those accents! Don’t get me wrong, the accents are a big part of the show’s charm — the lilt of the dialect, the unusual regional phrases, etc — but if it wasn’t for closed captioning, we’d be utterly lost.


McSCOTTY said...

b.t. Sorry I didn't read the question correctly. I do my know the American style spin off but only as my better half told me, is it Happy Days ? But I don't recall three other spin off apart from Laverne and Shirley and Joanie loves (oops forgot the name apologies)

AHH Derry Girls is funny, but I have to agree that even I have difficulty understanding some of their lines. I find some US Southern states dialect hard to understand but it's always good to hear folk talk in their own language rather than (what we call ) estuary English ( non descript standard polite English)

Anonymous said...

DING-DING-DING-DING-DING! The correct answer is indeed HAPPY DAYS, from which sprang LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY, JOANIE LOVES CHACHI, aaaaaand....MORK AND MINDY.


Charlie Horse 47 said...

Sean - that's pretty dagone funny about the Super League! Anytime American Billionaires team up with financially bankrupt entities (Barca, Madrid, Juventus) just "duck and cover." Fair play to the UK fans who seemingly killed this venture yesterday!!!

Anonymous said...

Hard to understand? Ah, catch yerselves on - those are fairly mild accents in Derry Girls.


Charlie Horse 47 said...

OK... try this on for size!

The mother of all sitcoms is I Love Lucy. Seriously. I don't think any other show in America, besides possibly (!) the back-to-back Brady Bunch - Partridge Family Hour had such a huge market share of viewers?

Plus Lucy ran for how many years? And good lord, the entire nation fawned over her birth of Little Ricky Jr!

OK - so do the 1950s with I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners serve as sufficient proof that the 1950s were the best decade ever for sitcoms?

Charlie Horse 47 said...

And should we throw radio sitcoms into the Mix?

I mean between The Jack Benny Show and The Bickersons and Fibber McGee and Molly and The Great Gildersleeve... that is some truly hilarious stuff there.

I wonder if Benny's sitcom career (radio and TV combined) ran longer than I Love Lucy? I mean he did continue doing a sitcom in the 1950s (and 1960s?) on TV which was pretty Hilarious. It's seen here in Chicago land on MeTV or The Decades Channel still.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, I couldn't believe they called it European when half the teams were English... or Super, when Spurs were in it!
Ba-dum tsshhh.


Charlie Horse 47 said...

Sean, Colin, et al -

How did we get on teh subject of "SUits you sir" a month or two ago?

Was it a discussion about Sheffield, UK?
Was it a discussion about UK TV shows?
Was it about how us yanks have trouble with y'alls accents?

I am bugged I can't recall the context.

Anonymous said...

Dunno Charlie, but I'm pretty sure it was Colin's fault, so maybe he can help.
Or maybe it was Phillip...

Anyhow, back on topic - I checked on the wiki (sad, eh?) and fwiw Dad's Army lasted longer than I Love Lucy, but M*A*S*H lasted longer than both.
And a lot longer than the actual war in Korea.


Humanbelly said...

Oh, this is great--

*I love DERRY GIRLS. Omigod. Accent isn't the only difficulty, though-- it's exacerbated mightily by universal teenage-girl machine-gun delivery combined with snarl, spit, and venom. It is brilliant.

*I LOVE LUCY started in '51 and ran for six seasons. . . but like so many of the most popular 50's sitcoms, it started life as a popular RADIO sitcom (MY FAVORITE WIFE). Same writing team and everything. MANY of the same scripts, in fact. Ultimately I wouldn't give the 50's the nod as Greatest sitcom decade, 'cause it really didn't break any new ground, other than transferring the shows to a new format.

*Lucy herself was on television in one show or another pretty much from '51 to '74--!

* Dammit, I TOTALLY knew the answer to the trivia question. . . just didn't get back in time--!

* HBWife just pointed out that her (heh, thus "our") favorite Britcom of all time is the combined Yes, MINISTER/YES, PRIME MINISTER. . . and I would agree it is brilliant and mines fanTASTIC comedy where one would never expect to find it.

* Hmmm-- since ARE YOU BEING SERVED? is that-of-which-we-never-speak. . . shall I assume RED DWARF is somewhere on that spectrum too? (HA-!)

*HBWife just came in and told me I darned well had better get dinner started, or it will go hard with me. . . sheesh. . . it's tough to be the secondary member of the household!

(Making meatloaf)

Anonymous said...

Oh, aye? Grand so.


Anonymous said...

I’m glad you brought up I LOVE LUCY. It was so ubiquitous in our childhoods, and so enormously influential in Pop Culture in general, that it’s easy to dismiss it as overly familiar or whatever. But it really is terrific. In our area, it was usually played somewhat in sequence, so when it would get to the episodes where they moved out to the suburbs, we’d start to get a little melancholy because we knew it was getting near the end of the series. Of course, it would start all over again from the beginning soon after, but still.

We watched all of Lucy’s follow-up series too — HERE’S LUCY, THE LUCY SHOW, etc — but none of them were anywhere near as good as the original.

And of course, all us nerds have Lucy to thank for green-lighting STAR TREK back in ‘64.


Mike Wilson said...

If you're looking for a deep take on American sitcoms (including some rather obscure ones), check out jacksonupperco's site. He reviews lots of sitcoms (among other stuff) and has some pretty strong opinions on which are the best.

Redartz said...

I love you guys; you really know how to take a ball and run with it!

Charlie- yes "I Love Lucy" was a part of almost all our childhoods. It always seemed to be on when I was home sick from school. But I'd have to agree that her later endeavors sitcomwise didn't match up. Probably because they lacked Fred Mertz.

Regarding the myriad UK shows being discussed- as I'm grossly uninformed about them, I'll just sit back and learn.

Sean- yes, the sketch shows were more ...accessible in my neck of the woods. Obviously the Pythons, but also Benny Hill and Dave Allen.

HB- here's agreement with you; can't call the 50's the 'golden age' of comedy. Not personally, anyway. Such an abundance of suburban family comedies ( admittedly "Leave it to Beaver" was great). The 60's ushered in such experimentation in the format. Sometime I will share the story of how affected I was by "Car 54 Where Are You?"...

Humanbelly said...

So-- getting back (sort of) to Red's original query for a minute-- (Which decade represents the Golden Age of Sitcom?)--

I think it's gonna be longer than the confines of a single decade. My take? It began with the stampede to shift to color programs in the 65/66 season, which was wrapped up by the end of the 66/67 season. Think of how many of "our" iconic sitcoms had a first season in B&W, and then shifted to color the next year: GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, I DREAM OF JEANNE, BEWITCHED, THAT GIRL-- as well as older shows that really seemed to come alive once they made the shift (PETTICOAT JUNCTION, BEVERLY HILLBILLIES). And that's just the off the top of my head list.

So, starting with the 65/66 season, that captures so many of what we think of as truly great (or fun) and original sitcoms. And even includes the last season of the perfect DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.

And then we travel along clear through the mid-70's, with so many of the great shows that have been cited. Until we get to the spring of '77. And while it's not the end of this iteration of the Golden Age-- 'cause many of those shows were still going strong and were in fine shape-- THAT'S when THREE'S COMPANY first aired. I didn't remember that it was a spring replacement show. As a 16-year-old, I should have been the target demographic for all of the titillating, double/triple entendre, jiggly fluff it thrived on. . . and I absolutely hated it. It wasn't funny. It was just cheap and obvious and shamelessly lazy in its writing-- albeit with a fairly talented John Ritter doing his best to keep it alive. That show was the proverbial shark-jump for this particular era. It became the low-bar for writing at the very least.

And, if we wanted to draw a line in the sand where we can write Fini. . . maybe that final episode of MASH would be a good spot? 1983, wasn't it? The HAPPY DAYS universe had waned; Norman Lear's best was long behind him. And CHEERS was in its first season (lowest-rated show on television its first week!)-- which might be a good spot to plant a flag for "The Silver Age of Sitcoms", eh?


Colin Jones said...

Sean, you didn't like ANY British sitcoms from the '70s except Citizen Smith ??? (And yes, I should have included Citizen Smith!). I didn't mention 'Allo 'Allo because it wasn't from the '70s - it was broadcast from 1982-92 and I agree it was awful.

HB, have you seen the 1977 movie version of Are You Being Served? The staff of Grace Brothers go on holiday to Spain.

Paul, Rab C Nesbitt was a legend and Still Game was shown outside Scotland too.

Charlie, I think we started talking about "Suits you, sir" because somebody mentioned the Fast Show (possibly Phillip) and then I made a list of quotes from the show.

Colin Jones said...

HB, Yes Minister was apparently Margaret Thatcher's favourite sitcom but the two stars, Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne, couldn't stand Thatcher.

Colin Jones said...

On the subject of I Love Lucy - last year BBC radio made a drama serial about the creation of I Love Lucy.

Colin Jones said...

Several of the BBC sitcoms I listed earlier had special Christmas episodes which still often appear in the TV schedules when Christmas comes around. Their regular re-appearance is our version of Rudolph or A Charlie Brown Christmas :D

Anonymous said...

I was wondering when someone was gonna mention THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. Amidst the crowd of “Them Funny Hicks” shows and “Monsters Next Door” shows and “Must Keep My {Witch Wife / Genie Servant / Martian Uncle / Talking Horse} A Secret” shows, TDVDS seems like the apex of urbane sophistication. And it’s also damn funny!

HB, you make a compelling and well-reasoned case for The Sitcom Golden Age. It’s not a single decade, closer to two — but the Golden Age of Comics stretches from ‘38 to ‘56, right? It may be a bit if a ‘Kobiyashi Mari’ solution to Red’s original challenge, but it makes sense to me.

I half-heartedly started thinking of shows that I liked from the 90s, the Aughts and the Teens, just to see if I really could make a case for any of those decades being our ‘Golden Age’. I got as far as jotting down some of my favorites (BECKETT, THE JOHN LARROQUETTE SHOW, THE NANNY, THE NAKED TRUTH, VEEP, BIG BANG THEORY — and yes, the Juggernaut Elephants In The Room, FRIENDS and SEINFELD too) — but they wouldn’t cohere into any sort of pattern. It’s as if the last three decades just sort of blur together.


Anonymous said...

‘Kobiyashi MARU’. Dang Autocorrect :(


Anonymous said...

One more thought about 90s sitcoms:

The Missus and I found being New Parents physically and emotionally exhausting at times, so when our daughter would finally manage to fall asleep in the evenings (and more importantly, STAY asleep), we would watch whatever was on TV just to de-compress. If the shows were bland, banal, and utterly un-challenging, so much the better. This was way before HGTV and The Food Network, so we ended up getting kinda hooked on ABC’s ‘TGIF’ line-up. SABRINA, BOY MEETS WORLD and FULL HOUSE were our ‘Empty Calories Comfort Food’. The best part was that we could doze off in the middle of any of them, and wake up feeling like we didn’t miss anything of importance — just close up shop and go to bed.

Kyle Mooney on SNL wrote a couple of TGIF parodies in the past few years that are flat-out BRILLIANT. I’m too tech-challenged to post a link, but if anyone’s interested, go to YouTube, type in ‘Cut For Time: Cool’ and ‘Cut For Time: Cars’


Charlie Horse 47 said...

B.t., et al.

I'm tracking with you 110% on the Dick Van Dyke show.

1) It is just really funny. And not just with predictable jokes like MASH or Happy Days where everyone just sticks to their role-types (which I find a bit boring after a while).

2) The actors were young and vibrant... alive... full of spunk!

3) The clothes are quite fashionable and cool from a RETRO perspective.

4) Mary Tyler Moore was attractive to gaze upon, lol.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

I don't know who might answer this (Sean or Phillip or Colin probably with their extraordinary researching skills and memories!)

But is there a www site that tracked things like what % of shows were comedy sit com vs. crime sit com vs. variety vs. whatever as a % of the shows that appeared on TV?

I am curious to know if, since the 1950s dawn of TV if folks seemingly prefer more or less or the same of comedy sit coms and other types of shows.

I guess that would be hard to determine for the 2020s since we probably cannot quantify that given folks also use streaming services like Netflix or the Internet for individual, self-paced viewing.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Red! I want to give you a shout out regarding the Carol Burnett Show.

I watched that show for years as a teen (if I was not out with me buddies doing stupid stuff) and especially if I was visiting my grandmother on a Saturday evening!

I also watch it now in syndication. IT's 30 minutes long and just has a few skits.

YOU CANNOT BELIEVE all the top-shelf hollywood stars that wanted on that show! I mean it was a veritable who's who! I was watching an interview with Carol and she said the letters and requests through agents to be on her show just started pouring in after a year or so.

SHe was, I think, the first woman to have her own show on TV?

Charlie Horse 47 said...


Same with My Favorite Martion?

Same with Mr. Ed.

Colin Jones said...

Charlie, Mork & Mindy was definitely unusual as Mork was AN ALIEN introduced into Happy Days, an otherwise mainstream comedy show. I don't know the other two sitcoms you mentioned.

Here's a curious fact: American dramas (Kojak etc) were always broadcast on BBC One which was the "popular" BBC channel but American sitcoms were shown on BBC Two which was the "arty" channel (and therefore avoided by most viewers). BBC Two was the place you'd find Shakespeare plays, operas, classical-music concerts, foreign-language films, high-brow arts documentaries and...American sitcoms.

Colin Jones said...

I don't know why UK broadcasters chose one US sitcom over another. Why did the BBC buy Bilko but not Gilligan's Island for example? We got Rhoda but NOT the Mary Tyler Moore Show which Rhoda had sprang from. And we also got the Lou Grant series starring Ed Asner - it was only around five or six years ago that I discovered to my amazement that Lou Grant had originally been a comedy character who'd been on the same TV series as Rhoda!

Did anyone watch a sitcom called Murphy Brown? In the early '90s the BBC (yes, BBC Two again) showed the first season of Murphy Brown but no further seasons ever appeared. According to Wikipedia there were 11 seasons of Murphy Brown but the BBC didn't buy any more after Season One!

Redartz said...

Colin- fascinating that American sitcoms were presented on BBC2 alongside the more, shall we say, intellectual fare. And it blows my mind that you got "Rhoda" but not MTM. "Mary" was, and is, regarded as a classic and a pinnacle of quality comedy. Loved the show, and still remember the hilarious/poignant final episode. Regarding "Lou Grant", I liked that show too, but it was kind of a flip from your experience: it was an adjustment to see him as a dramatic figure after so many years in a comic role. Especially as he played the same character. Brings to mind a question: anyone know any other tv characters who transitioned from comedy to drama, or vice versa?

Charlie Horse 47 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colin Jones said...

Charlie, my father absolutely loved Bilko and M*A*S*H - they were his two favourite US sitcoms.

And did you know that the cartoon series Top Cat was based on Bilko?

Humanbelly said...

Quick fact-catch-- MURPHY BROWN got blowback because the character decided to have a baby out of wedlock, IIRC? Effectively opting to be a single mother? I wasn't watching it at the time, but do remember the ABSURD blowback from an offended Dan Quayle. Abortion had in fact been tackled on MAUDE many years prior-- as MAUDE herself found that she was unexpectedly pregnant (which seemed to be kinda pushin' credibility-- but not impossible---).

And MY FAVORITE MARTIAN was one of those 1 season B&W, then jump to color shows! Now I remember! I do think you can lump it into the same category as the MANY other sitcoms that had some sort of paranormal/supernatural/fantasy character at their center-- I wonder if that formula ever goes away completely? BEWITCHED; I DREAM OF JEANNE; MY FAVORITE MARTIAN; MR ED (Sci-Fi? Same as King Kong??); NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR; GHOST AND MRS MUIR; MORK; ALF; MY MOTHER THE CAR; SMALL WONDER (possibly the worst sitcom in the history of History--); HOLMES AND YOYO; the first one-season SMOTHERS BROTHERS SHOW; THE GIRL WITH SOMETHING EXTRA-- hmm, I wonder if there are more to be dug up?

Red-- to answer your sorta-trivia question-- it was nagging at the back of my memory, and I think I've got one-- TRAPPER JOHN, M.D.-- with Pernell Roberts playing the older version of the character Wayne Rogers created in the first few seasons of MASH. . .

Wow-- could this be THE longest response thread we've ever generated? This is great! And it's only Thursday night!


B Smith said...

"with Pernell Roberts playing the older version of the character Wayne Rogers created in the first few seasons of MASH. . ."

...and who was originated by Elliott Gould in the original 1970 movie from which the TV show was spun off.

There's a pub trivia question just going begging there.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

I don't think we can edit comments, just delete.


Charlie is deleting his reference above to Murphy Brown b/c Charlie thought the controversy was over a pro-choice stand but it was over a single-mother issue.

I'm leaving my reference to Bilko here, o'wise Colin's reply about Bilko makes no sense.
Colin - good lord you guys had Sgt Bilko, LOL? I dare say even most of us US dudes here only had a very limited exposure to Bilko.

"My Favorite Martian" was a comedy from the early 60s (B&W). Two guys living together. One was a martian who looked perfectly human but for occasionally some antennas popping up out of his head. Bill Bixby was the non-martian IIRC. (Bixby did "Mr. Eddy's Father" and "The Hulk")

Colin Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Does Comics said...

The Mary Tyler Moore Show did manage to get shown on British TV but it was aired by ITV stations in their regional opt-out slots. I remember it being given a Friday midnight berth on Yorkshire TV, in the very early 1980s.

I'm going to do it. I'm going to defend Are You Being Served, 'Allo 'Allo and Hi-de-Hi. They were good-natured silliness with excellent casts and a spectacular gift for churning out catchphrases.

On the Buses, on the other hand, was genuinely vile.

Charlie, I don't have a clue how we got onto the subject of The Fast Show.

Anyway, these are my favourite sitcoms; Cheers, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads, Porridge, The Office (UK), Extras, The Inbetweeners (the most terrifyingly accurate portrayal of teenage life ever committed to film) and Father Ted. Granted, one of Father Ted's writers has, since, gone toxically weird but the show was good, regardless.

But my favourite sitcom of all time is probably Hancock's Half Hour which started on the radio in the 1950s and then transferred to television. It centred around the life of a down-at-heel comedian and his friends, managing to fuse a sometimes surreal bent with the kitchen sink mundanity that was fashionable in British theatre at the time. Its star Tony Hancock was arguably the greatest British comedy actor of all time.

Colin Jones said...

I'll continue where Steve left off - Tony Hancock was a huge star in Britain in the '50s and he longed for international success like Charlie Chaplin or Stan Laurel but it never happened and Hancock's fame declined during the '60s until he committed suicide in Australia in 1968, aged just 44. A few years ago BBC radio made a play which imagined Hancock's final hour as he looks back at his life and I wish they'd broadcast it again.
Steve mentioned 'Hancock's Half Hour' starting as a radio series (in 1954) and several of the BBC sitcoms I mentioned earlier were also made into radio versions - in fact, Steptoe & Son is currently being broadcast on BBC Radio 4-Extra (a digital station devoted entirely to content from the BBC archives) and earlier tonight I was listening to an episode originally from April 1971. The final TV episode of Steptoe & Son was shown on Boxing Day (Dec 26th) 1974 but the final RADIO episode was broadcast on Christmas Day 1976 - the radio episodes of BBC sitcoms were actually just the TV episodes specially adapted and recorded for radio.

Colin Jones said...

In my list of sitcoms I also mentioned Porridge (the one set in a prison) and I'm currently working my way through all 21 episodes of that series on iPlayer which is the BBC's downloading and streaming website and app (there's also a version for radio called BBC Sounds). Tomorrow lunchtime I intend to enjoy a glass of rum while watching the Porridge Christmas Special originally broadcast on Christmas Eve 1976 :)

So Red, HB, Charlie, bt or whoever wants to answer: I know that the big US broadcasters have similar online streaming services to iPlayer so do you use them? Do you watch classic sitcoms (or dramas) in this way? (and same question for Mike in Canada if he reads this).

Colin Jones said...

I've never heard of 'Maude' (but I know Bea Arthur from the Golden Girls) so I googled the series and it says that several episodes featured only Maude and her husband with no other characters involved - this was the NORMAL situation on Steptoe & Son where Steptoe Sr and Jr were the only regular characters in the series and most episodes were a dialogue between them and if other characters appeared it was only briefly.

Anonymous said...

Colin, Citizen Smith wasn't the only sitcom I mentioned - and Yes Minister and (if it counts) Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy were appealing too - but I stand by my opinion that the Brits did better sketch shows.
Although er... Benny Hill wasn't really what I had in mind. (Really, Redartz? Benny Hill?)

So b.t., have you seen Father Ted? If so, did you find those accents hard to follow too?


Colin Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Humanbelly said...

Oh gosh Charlie-- I never would have expected you to delete your post, partner-! I figure sorting out the details from decades ago is just a natural part of the conversation. And what made me think twice about it at all was that the public outcry was, if anything, to tame for the subject at hand to have been abortion-- even for that more liberal era. I feel like there would have been boycotts, sponsors pulling out, all KINDS of stuff like that. . .

Colin- with the Classic Shows-- It seems like they're all on too many different services or platforms. . . and many just not at all. We have a few favorites on DVD, and for quite awhile were checking out full season DVDs from our neighborhood library. . .. ! (We've also gotten to the point where watching commercials is unbearable-- sorta wrecking the whole economic model, I believe. . . )


Redartz said...

Colin- like HB, I find myself viewing many different services. Between Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube, I can find most anything. Additionally, there are several local broadcasting stations which carry vintage programming, so I can binge on Westerns all afternoon if desired.

Sean- yes, I must admit to watching Benny back in the day. Although there was much that I found cringeworthy even then. Growing up in Indiana, most any British entertainment was a welcome break from Farm reports, televangelists and late night infomercials...

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Colin, Here in Chicago land you can get about 45 channels broadcast over the air. OF that, 4 (?) just show reruns from the 1950s - 1990s. One just shows old B&W movies.

There is also a service you can sign up for called locast (for local cast) that runs all those channels over the internet so you can watch on your favorite device of stream to your TV.

THat is how I watch the things I reference here like Jack Benny, The Honeymooners, Dick Cavett, etc. via Locast at $5 / month. The antennae is just a bit too unreliable.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Red - It is funny how, though we are both Hoosiers you grew up on the extreme south end of the state and me on the extreme north end.

I got oil refineries, steel mills, chemical plants... a lake as big as Portugal... Michael Jackson

You got bucolic hills, pasture land, agriculture... the ohio river... Jphn Cougar...

Funny the differences...

BUT we saw the same TV shows and read the same comic books! THe glue that binds us together!

Can I get an AMEN BROTHER???!!!

Humanbelly said...

Re: the enigma of Indiana

South Bend: Feels very much like a Northern City (small/medium sized). Gets clobbered regularly by blizzards, etc.

Drive down US 31, and get past Indianapolis.

The accents have shifted when you stop for gas.

By the time you get to the southern border (and Kentucky), you are in The South now. No question.

(At least that was the case when I made that drive a couple of times in the 80's- !)


Charlie Horse 47 said...

I wish there was an objective way to measure the popularity / success of a comedy actor b/c I truly wonder where Jack Benny would stand.

Hailing from Waukegan, Illinois (near by) he did vaudeville, radio, then TV. I think he is considered radio's "greatest" comedy actor.

The TV show was a stitch too!

He did do vaudeville in Peoria IL which reminds me of that saying I've heard "If it plays in Peoria it'll play anywhere."

Maybe HB or some of you other guys who are actors can explain that? Why Peoria of all places, LOL?

Charlie Horse 47 said...

HB - Indiana is a land of many paradoxes. 'Nuff said!

Redartz said...

Charlie and HB- yes, Indiana is a land of paradox. I grew up near Indianapolis and went to college there, later lived up north in Lafayette, now down along the Ohio. And there is certainly a different feel to each area. And, it always seems to be about 10 degrees warmer here than even Indianapolis...

Anonymous said...

Charlie, the only thing I know about Peoria, Illinois - other than that expression, which I take to mean its the quintessential straight American small town - is that its where the late, great Philip Jose Farmer came from, and lived most of his life.
So I assume it must be a stranger place than it seems.
Maybe so are all the other (seemingly) straight American small towns...?


humanbelly said...

HUGE Jack Benny fan, me--!
The Radio Classics channel on Sirius/XM is one of the things that keeps me subscribing, and Jack's program is a staple of my listening. And man, for several years there he was doing a weekly radio program AND a weekly television show. With the same unparalleled supporting cast right there with him. Decades before Harvey Korman couldn't keep a straight face when trapped onstage with Tim Conway, Mel Blanc was cracking Jack Benny up mid-scene with delightful ease. Heh.

The use of Peoria as a go-to punchline for "The Sticks" in the theater world prrrrrobably originated with vaudeville, I bet? The less-than-A-list circuits would have performers and their acts trekking out into the midwestern hinterlands, playing in towns as opposed to Big Cities-- where the mindset of the locals was still largely rural and. . . well. . . unsophisticated. BUT still expecting to be entertained, so-- less forgiving, in a way. The proverbial Tough House. And just about as unrewarding a gig for a performer as there could ever be. Hence, Peoria became the butt of many jokes along those lines. . .

(Mind you, I don't know this for a fact-- it's mostly ringing a bell from an old book about vaudeville I perused about 20 years ago. . . )


Colin Jones said...

I remember watching the 1992 Presidential election coverage (on the BBC but the coverage itself was from one of the big US networks) and somebody said that Indiana was "too close to call" which was an early sign that Clinton had won the election because Indiana was normally an easy win for the Republicans.
Up until then my only other knowledge of Indiana was the song "Indiana Wants Me" which reached #2 in the UK singles chart, and the fact that Taylor from Planet Of The Apes came from Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

All right gents - I polled my parents tonight at dinner (85 years old each) by asking them who they thought was the greatest comedian on TV.

Immediately they said Lucille Ball. My father quickly said she could act, sing, dance... the whole repertoire.

So I immediately played the "What about Jack Benny" card and they said He was hilarious on booth radio and TV but he did not have the talents of Lucille Ball.

So that's that... Lucille Ball is America's greatest when it comes to comedy sitcoms!

That said, my old man said Red Skelton made him laugh the hardest. But he was basically in sketches IIRC.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Colin - I could tell you all sorts of things about Indiana some good some bad (very, very bad e.g., the heart of the KKK).

But what I would like to recommend is get a few books by Booth Tarkington. He is considered "America's greatest author that no one now has heard of." And in the 1900 - 1920 time frame he was by far America's most prolific and popular author.

Anyhow, I recommend The Magnificent Ambersons. Written around 1910 +/- It was made into a movie around WW@ IIRC. I highly recommend it if you want a contemporaneous novel of how the USA was becoming industrialized around the turn of the century, basically due to the automobile, and its impact on the class structure in America. Well worth yours and anyone else's time. The movie has very high reviews as well, directed by Orson Welles.

I can also recommend The Gentleman from Indiana.

I actually got first prints on ebay for like $10, from around 1910.

Redartz said...

Colin- to add to Charlie's comments on Indiana: it's nicknamed "The Crossroads of America "- geographically a midwestern state, and centeres between a northern state (Michigan) and Kentucky, generally considered a southern state. Supposedly Indiana represents 'mainstream America ', although as you noted it's a reliably conservative state. There are more Democratic areas, particularly Indianapolis and the Lafayette/Purdue University region. The northern half of the state is pretty flat. The southern half has more hills and forests. In some ways it's a bit mundane (as kids we figured the line in the song you mentioned, "Lord I can't go back there " referred to the inclination of many to go somewhere more exciting). But it was a good place to grow up...

Charlie- funny you mentioned Red Skelton. He was my Dad's favorite too. He had a portrait of Red hanging on his wall. I recall him watching "Red Skelton " faithfully on tv in the 60's. Although I was a bit nervous about that; little Redartz didn't want to see any 'red skeletons; lol!

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Red! I had a royal LOL when I read your remark about Red Skelton vs. Red Skeletons!

I too confused the two in my youth and indeed, when I was writing the name above, I had to stop and make sure I did not write skeleton!!!

Anyhow, while with my parents I were recalling the Lucy show (solo career in the early 70s?) where Lucy was helping a song-writer compose lyrics. So I started singing aloud, "I was pancakes... you were crepe suzettes... I was coca cola... you were Champaign."

The two 85 year olds suddenly started singing the song (below) upon which this skit was likely based.

A beautiful song featuring Maurice Chevalier called I Remember it Well.


The skit below with Chevalier and Sophie Tucker may be of special interest to our UK chaps too, as Chevalier recalls seeing Tucker perform in London in 1928. A wonderful conversation among two giants of a time gone by.


Humanbelly said...

Fellas, I must confess, I've. . . I've swiped Red Skelton's shtick before when on-stage business has called for it. Sometimes there are moments when it's, like, "No, HE nailed the right way to work this piece of business-- the timing, the mechanics, the style & mannerisms-- if I can invest in it and make it true, THAT'S what I need to be doing." He was a big favorite in our house as well. The Silent Spot was the segment I adored most---


v mark said...

The one thing I immediately associate with Indiana is that it's the birthplace of Kurt Vonnegut. He made several references to it in his books.
Oh and David Letterman too, if I remember correctly?

And my favorite 70s sitcoms were Barney Miller and Bob Newhart. But the funniest show on TV was definitely Monty Python.

Colin Jones said...

Charlie and Red, thanks for the information on Indiana.

Charlie, I'm very familiar with that Maurice Chevalier song - it comes from the musical 'Gigi'.

Anonymous said...

Now THIS is crazy....

All this talk about Red Skelton has jarred loose a memory that I didn’t even realize I had. I think my family and I went to a taping of his variety show when I was very young. I remember driving to the CBS studios, and I remember seeing Red himself on the stage doing a monologue of some sort but that’s it —the rest of the taping is a blank. Don’t recall the guest stars, any of the sketches, nothing. Wikipedia says his show moved to NBC in 1971, so I was no more than 9, but it’s still kind of odd that I don’t remember more about it.

We saw THE NEWLYWED GAME being taped — they taped a week’s worth of shows all in a single day — I think we bailed after two. And some classmates and I saw SANFORD AND SON being taped around ‘77. We dutifully clapped when the ‘APPLAUSE’ sign lit up and laughed when the ‘LAUGH’ sign ordered us to but laughed the loudest whenever Redd Foxx blew a line (which was often) because he would swear like a G-D, M-F, S-O-B sailor every single time :)


Mike Wilson said...

Colin, sorry I'm a bit behind the conversation :) We have some of the same streaming stuff in Canada (like Netflix, which is actually cheaper here than in the States) plus some of our own (like Crave), but I don't use any of them. We've got satellite TV, so plenty of channels to choose from. If I had Netflix or something like it, I'd probably never leave the house!

Although to be honest, I haven't watched many sitcoms lately, old or new; I pretty much stick to the DC superhero shows and rewatching old episodes of some favourites. Speaking of which (and not to hijack the topic), but did anyone watch Stargirl last year? Maybe that's a thread for another day ...

Charlie, I heartily agree on Jack Benny; the Comedy Channel used to show old episodes of his TV show and they were brilliant. Great supporting cast too ... Mel Blanc was a genius.

Humanbelly said...

Adding to the Jack Benny tangent-- Sirius/XM's Radio Classics aired his FIRST SHOW during my drive home this afternoon-! Early May, 1932. He served as the Emcee for the Canada Dry show-- introducing musical numbers and such, nothing at all like his later show. But even with a script that came across as forced, he was still that same irreverent, slightly-over-it, hard-to-impress Jack Benny that we're familiar with-- right from the get-go--!

So, he was on the radio from '32 through '55, and had a television program from (effectively) '50 through '65. After that, iirc, he had a number of anniversary/annual-farewell specials. The man. . . was a workhorse-!


You Might Also Like --

Here are some related posts: