As I sit here writing this I am at work praying for a calm, uneventful night. I am also hoping to distract myself from yet another one of my infamous Facebook debates about sociopolitical issues. Though I refrain from engaging in such “discussions” as much as I used to, there are still times that I just can’t seem to resist. I always hate myself afterward though because I am inevitably left feeling utterly flummoxed by society’s loathing of God and the downward spiral of a once proud & exceptional America that has apparently slipped into the rear view mirror for the time being. At any rate, I can think of no better palate cleanser than to dive into the exciting conclusion of my 50 Favorite TV Shows series. I think, in the interest of readability, it is best to break The Top 10 into two entries, so here we go with the first half.
SNL is the very essence of the term “hit or miss”. Certainly not all of its 35+ seasons have been winners. Even within each season some weeks are memorable and some induce channel surfing. Heck, each individual show has its ups & downs. Some skits are really funny, some are horrible misfires. Some guest hosts rock and some should stick to their days jobs. Different musical guests will obviously appeal to some viewers while being of no interest to others. However, taken as a whole one has to give due credit to Lorne Michaels & NBC for producing a show that has lasted so long and has become thoroughly ingrained in the pop culture fabric of the nation. The show has a built in mechanism to keep it fresh, with a different guest host each week and the fact that the cast never stays static for too long since after a few years the actors inevitably want to move on to sitcoms or movies. Over the course of nearly four decades SNL has launched the careers of people like Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Dana Carvey, Gilda Radner, Dennis Miller, Chris Farley, Jane Curtin, Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon, Billy Crystal, Bill Murray, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, and Martin Short. Of course it has also given us such forgettable performers as Morwenna Banks, Jim Breuer, A. Whitney Brown, Horatio Sanz, Charles Rocket, Jeff Richards, Ellen Cleghorne, Denny Dillon, Rachel Dratch, Siobhan Fallon, Melanie Hutsell, Tim Kazurzinsky, Cheri Oteri, Mark McKinney, and Finesse Mitchell, as well as people we wish we could forget like David Spade, Rob Schneider, Al Franken, Tracey Morgan, Jon Lovitz, and Janeane Garofalo. Whether they were one shot deals or recurring characters sketches like Wayne’s World, Matt Foley Motivational Speaker, The Church Lady, The Coneheads, Father Guido Sarducci, The Blues Brothers, Leon Phelps The Ladies Man, The Festrunk Brothers (two wild & crazy guys!!), The Ambiguously Gay Duo, Lazy Sunday (Chroni…what?…cles of Narnia!!), Just Pat, Bill Swerski’s Chicago Superfans, Mary Katherine Gallagher, The Spartan Cheerleaders, and Schweddy Balls are fondly remembered many years after they aired. SNL is like a well-worn, comfortable piece of furniture…we could take a chance on something newer, shinier, fancier, and more modern, but we like that old beaten up thing that we’re used to, even with all its scratches, dents, and other imperfections.
9 Family Ties
Are you ready for some Must See TV up in here?? In the 80’s NBC’s Thursday night lineup was quite possibly the best night of television ever assembled. At 8:30pm viewers enjoyed this tale of a Midwestern culture clash between liberal, ex-hippy, baby boomer parents whose roots were firmly planted in the 60’s counterculture and their teenage son who energetically embraced the conservative Reagan Revolution. Such a concept these days would undoubtedly be mean spirited and glorify deviant lifestyles, but 30 years ago it was just a good natured comedy full of family values, love, and an appreciation for all points of view. Michael J. Fox became an overnight sensation playing young yuppie wannabe Alex P. Keaton and eventually parlayed that success into superstardom with his lead role in the Back to the Future movie trilogy. Courtney Cox, way before Friends made her a star, got her start playing Alex’s girlfriend. A young Tom Hanks made guest appearances as Alex’s alcoholic uncle. The writing was smart and the performances were above average for a sitcom. I seem to recall that on occasion serious issues like racism, drugs, and suicide were tackled, but the tone of the show never felt preachy or trite. I don’t have a problem with sitcoms addressing such topics in a thoughtful manner as long as the fact that it is supposed to be a comedy is never forgotten.
Right after Family Ties, at 9pm every Thursday night in the 80’s, NBC gave us the story of a Boston watering hole and its quirky band of misfit employees & patrons. Personally my beer swilling days pretty much ended after college and in reality middle aged people hanging out in bars tend to be kind of sad & pathetic, but fortunately the gang at Cheers wasn’t quite as pitiful as actual boozehounds. Ted Danson played bar owner Sam, a former Red Sox pitcher & recovering alcoholic. His employees…sardonic (and fertile) barmaid Carla, dimwitted yet kindhearted bartender Coach, naïve bartender Woody, and pretentiously loquacious waitress Diane…were like a neurotic little family. The group also included bar patrons Cliff Clavin, a bloviating mailman, and Norm Petersen, an unemployed accountant extremely fond of beer and not keen on going home to his wife. The show’s memorable theme song sums up the appeal of the bar and therefore the show itself:
Making your way in the world today takes everything you got
Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came
You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name
If only there were places in the real world that were so fun and welcoming, right??
7 The Cosby Show
A quick gander at NBC’s 1982 television schedule makes it obvious why the network was struggling at the time. Notable shows produced by The Peacock that year were dramas like CHiPs, Little House: A New Beginning, St. Elsewhere, Fame, Knight Rider, Hill St. Blues, and Quincy. They needed more comedy!! Sure, Saturday nights that year gave us Diff’rent Strokes, Silver Spoons, and Gimme A Break, but Saturday nights traditionally don’t produce great ratings since most folks are out & about doing something more fun than watching TV (atleast they were back then). Cheers did premiere in ’82, but it took a couple of years to find an audience. Family Ties also debuted the same year but took some time to gain traction as well. So the suits at 30 Rockefeller Plaza decided to bring in a heavy hitter. They greenlit a sitcom starring Bill Cosby, who was a very popular stand-up comedian and already well known for Saturday morning cartoon staple Fat Albert as well as the 1965 adventure show I Spy (becoming the first black lead actor ever in a TV drama in the process). The show was based on Cosby’s observational stories about family life that had made his stand-up act so successful. The Cosby Show was intelligent, witty, and well written. It rightfully took people of color out of the ghetto and made them educated & prosperous. In some ways it was your usual family sitcom fare, but honestly, to compare The Cosby Show to other sitcoms of its day is like comparing cheap champagne to Dom Perignon. I have to assume that this show, as much as a television shows can do such a thing, provided inspiration to countless minorities that they too could become a doctor, lawyer, or anything their heart desired as long as they read, studied, and stayed out of trouble. It’s not that shows like Good Times, Sanford & Son, and What’s Happening!! weren’t funny in their own way, it’s just that they all painted a stereotypical picture of black folks living a blue color life in the projects, whereas The Cosby Show subtly pointed out the fact that affluence, achievement, and accomplishment are not solely reserved for white people. But beyond all that it was funny, relevant (to all races), and charming (unlike mean spirited, low brow crap like Roseanne, Married With Children, and Family Guy). The Cosby Show was immediately a huge hit and was the #1 show on television for the vast majority of its run. It deserves a spot on the Mount Rushmore of television, and I am so glad it just happened to come along in the midst of my crucial “I watched WAY too much TV” years.
6 WWE Raw
I’m gonna get a lot of flack about this one, but I gotta be honest. Yes, I am a huge fan of professional wrestling and have been for about 30 years. As a kid I was gullible and thought it was all real, but that’s okay because back then it was pretty benign stuff. By the time wrestling became more violent & adult oriented I was all grown up and had become what is referred to as a “smart” fan. In other words I knew about the secrets, the storylines, and even occasionally what was going to happen ahead of time. With the invention and proliferation of The Internet in the 90’s smart fans had even more outlets to get the inside scoop. This necessitated a change in the wrestling business. You see, in the old days promotions like the WWF, AWA, & NWA would tape a month or so of television programming all in one night. I actually attended a TV taping once when I was in college, and it was exhausting!! Darn show lasted about 6 hours (although it was worth it since I did get to see Hulk Hogan). Obviously that way of doing things wasn’t going to fly in the Internet Age, so live programming became necessary. WWE recently aired its 1000th episode of Raw, which is remarkable. Long running shows like Gunsmoke, Law & Order, Lassie, & The Simpsons only produced 400-600 shows, and they had summers off. Raw doesn’t get weeks off. It is on every week. I am well aware that wrestling isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and my Dad has been telling me for many years “Son…that damn stuff is gonna disease your mind!!”. However, after decades of exposure I feel like I am about as mentally stable as anyone I know, and any neuroses from which I do happen to suffer cannot be blamed on wrestling. I have seen it referred to as “a soap opera for men”, which is about as accurate of a description as any I suppose. In recent years the sexuality and violence has been toned back down a lot, which is a positive thing. I am still not sure I would let children watch it, but that can be said for a lot of other things on TV as well.
- What the (peacock) is Wrong With NBC? (bottleepisodes.wordpress.com)
- ‘SNL’ to air prime-time election spoofs this fall (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- ‘SNL’ to air prime-time election spoofs this fall (clickondetroit.com)
- ‘SNL’ to air prime-time election spoofs this fall (newsok.com)
- ‘SNL’ to air prime-time election spoofs this fall (kansascity.com)
- Media Decoder Blog: NBC Is Proud as a You-Know-What About Its Sitcoms (mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com)
- NBC’s ‘Guys With Kids’ Is All About DILFs (huffingtonpost.com)
- NBC announces its depressing plan to become the network of the lowest common denominator (boingboing.net)
- Former ‘SNL’ Star Andy Samberg Reveals Natalie Portman’s Secret Talent: ‘Filthy’ Rapping (celebuzz.com)
- Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck on ‘SNL’: Some NBC stations censor song (latimesblogs.latimes.com)
- Will You Still Watch SNL? (uloop.com)
- Super Junior to host ‘Saturday Night Live Korea 2′ (allkpop.com)
- Andy Samberg Confirms Exit From ‘SNL’ (deadline.com)
- Mike Ryan: Who Had The Best Showing On ‘SNL’ This Season? (huffingtonpost.com)
- Ambiguously Gay Spartan Race (huffingtonpost.com)
- Al Franken’s ‘SNL’ partner, Tom Davis, dies in NY (news.yahoo.com)
- SNL: The 10 Best Sketches of the Past Season (tvline.com)