Superfluous 7 Favorite Late Night Television Hosts

It feels appropriate to piggyback on recent themes and complete somewhat of a trilogy. First I rated my all-time favorite stand-up comedians. Then, upon the retirement of the venerable David Letterman I bid a melancholy happy trails to my childhood of the 1980’s. And now I shall close the circle by pontificating about late night talk show hosts.

I’ve always been a night owl, even as a child. My mother knew that one of the best ways to punish me when I’d been mischievous was to send me to bed super early. I had a set bedtime on weeknights anyway, but making me go to bed an hour or two early was akin to what a modern youngster might feel like if they had their iPod taken away or their game console privileges restricted. It was as if I was afraid I was going to miss something. I don’t know why some folks are nocturnal while others are early risers. I am sure there is some sort of scientific explanation, but long ago I just decided to go with the flow and embrace who I am. I feel energetic & creative when most of the world is fast asleep. The vast majority of the things citizens of The Manoverse read here are produced after midnight. When combined with my affection for laughter and predilection for comedy over drama the affinity for late night talk shows makes much sense. So I thought it might be fun to discuss the hosts of these shows. The guys whose names are on the marquee. The engine that makes each program go and largely determines its success. I have my preferences, and if you like late night TV as much as me I am sure you have yours. Maybe we agree…maybe we don’t. But with all the darkness & misery in the world it is atleast a casual & pleasurable topic to ponder. Therefore, may I present…..

 

 

 

from the home office in Ha Ha Bay, Newfoundland, Canada…..

 

 

 

The Superfluous 7 Favorite Late Night Television Hosts:

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7 Craig Ferguson
I will always regret that I was late to the Ferguson party. I was somewhat familiar with him cffrom The Drew Carey Show in which he played Carey’s boss Mr. Wick from 1996-2004. When he took over CBS’ Late Late Show in 2005 my 12:30am allegiance had long been with Conan O’Brien’s Late Night program on NBC and my memories of Mr. Wick & The Drew Carey Show were hardly fond enough for me to switch things up. I’m either loyal or stubborn & inflexible…you decide. At any rate, it wasn’t until I quickly became bored with Seth Meyers’ incarnation of NBC’s Late Night franchise in the winter of 2014 that I decided to give Ferguson a whirl. Sadly, just a few weeks later, he announced that he’d be leaving the show by the end of that year. Though I only had about 9 months with Ferguson I thoroughly enjoyed that time. It is likely that had I began watching him a few years earlier or he’d not abdicated his throne as the clown prince of late night TV that he’d rate much higher on this list. To call Ferguson irreverent would be inaccurate, because I always felt that he had a deep respect for his job, his guests, & the audience. However, like a quarterback who uses his playbook only as a general outline but mostly improvises, Craig Ferguson kind of made up his own rules. His monologue was always an extemporaneous stream of consciousness. Usually fun, sometimes serious, always sincere. His sidekick was an animatronic robot skeleton named Geoff Peterson (voiced by gifted impressionist Josh Thompson). He ripped up whatever kind of notes he had about his guests and ad-libbed interviews, making them more like a genuine conversation between two real people. There was no house band. It is almost impossible for me to accurately describe Ferguson’s show. Like other gentlemen we’ll be discussing one watched Ferguson’s program for the talent & charm of the host…the guests were almost unnecessary. Supposedly Ferguson had decided to leave the show before news of Letterman’s retirement was announced. Maybe that is true. Maybe he is the restless type, a vagabond who doesn’t like to stay in one place too long and yearns for new challenges & adventures. However, I think it is very possible that he felt disrespected when the idea of him moving to 11:30pm was almost immediately dismissed. Whatever the truth may be, the fact is that the late night landscape is less interesting without Craig Ferguson, and I hope that maybe one day he might get the itch…and the opportunity…for a welcome comeback.

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6 The Jimmys – Fallon & Kimmel
Guess what folks…you better either love these guys or learn to like them as much as possible because they are likely to be the foundation of late night television for possibly the next 20-30 years.


I first became familiar with Kimmel in the late 1990’s when he hosted both Win Ben Stein’s jkMoney and The Man Show on Comedy Central. He’s a natural for late night TV. One can tell that he grew up a fan of Letterman and emulates him in a kinder, gentler way. Unfortunately ABC painted his show into a corner from the very beginning, airing it at midnight for its first decade of existence due to misguided & outdated loyalty to Nightline. ABC corrected their error a few years ago, but it’s put Kimmel behind the proverbial eight ball, as if he’s ten years behind and perpetually trying to catch up. Jimmy Kimmel Live!, despite its name, doesn’t air live anymore but that’s no big deal since neither does anything else. In the early days Kimmel used to have a bar in the studio and various celebrities would be his “guest co-host”. I recall Snoop Dogg getting plastered on live television one night, which was hysterical. Mostly the show follows the standard late night outline, although certain elements are individually underwhelming. Cleto, the bandleader, and Guillermo, the sidekick, are both forgettable. Jimmy’s Uncle Frank was the show’s security guard & sidekick until his death a few years ago and he is missed. Kimmel is sardonically affable, and that what has kept the show afloat. There still seems to be something missing, but it’s a solid alternative that may yet gain momentum and become the go to show in late night.


Fallon, obviously, gained fame from his stint on SNL and starred in a few movies. He took jfover NBC’s Late Night franchise for about 5 years and it was awesome. The host himself is genial & engaging, and at 12:30am his comedic sensibilities were spot on. Sidekick Steve Higgins is sneaky talented…a more versatile Ed McMahon. I’ve never been a huge fan of house band The Roots, atleast partially because I don’t understand why they are introduced as “legendary” when I’d never heard of them previous to Late Night, but they are talented and good at what they do. I love Fallon’s Friday night staple “Thank You Notes”, and at 12:30 audience participation games like “Models & Buckets” & “Dance Your Hat & Gloves Off” were goofy fun. He has his finger on the pulse of pop culture and effectively utilizes social media, which is a double edge sword. Millenials and people like myself who atleast try to keep up with the times enjoy the humor, but older folks my father’s age don’t connect with it at all. I was excited when Fallon took over the Tonight Show more than a year ago, but my delight quickly soured. At 11:30 Jimmy comes across as annoyingly enthusiastic and somewhat narcissistic. While many games & comedy bits on Late Night were silly, harmless entertainment, on the Tonight Show they often seem juvenile, forced, & not all that funny. I can’t imagine that celebrities who are there to promote a movie, book, album, or TV show really want to participate in such childish activities. Having said all that, just like his counterpart this Jimmy has time to modulate and find a more stable formula, although I may be the only one pining for such an adjustment since the show’s ratings and Fallon’s popularity are thru the roof and probably will continue to grow with less competition for the next few months.

 

 

5 Bob Costas
Yes, that Bob Costas…the one who has been a foundation of sports broadcasting for three bcdecades. From 1988-94 he hosted a show that aired for 30 minutes at 1:30am on NBC and that I ranked 18th amongst my 50 Favorite TV Shows of all time. There was no monologue. No jokes. No sidekick. No comedy bits. No house band. It was just Costas doing a cozy one-on-one interview with a single guest…and it rocked. The host himself was always engaging, articulate, & attentive, and if the guest was interesting that was icing on the cake. The show was occasionally mesmerizing and almost always compelling. Studies have shown that night owls are intelligent & creative, so, while on the surface it may seem like any show is doomed to fail at 1:30 in the morning, the truth is that this kind of program, when packaged correctly, is a fantastic solution. It’s a unique departure from the typical late night menu and a format whose return is much needed. There are only so many jokes to go around and a plethora of options to be entertained in that manner. We have comedy shows. We have “infotainment” like Entertainment Tonight and Extra. We have cooking & lifestyle shows. ESPN has a full lineup sports talk shows. We have mind numbing stupidity like Maury Povich, The View, & whatever poor NFL Hall-of-Famer Michael Strahan is forced to endure with the tiresome Kelly Ripa every morning. I wouldn’t mind a bit if someone would revive this show so I could once again look forward to something cool every night.

 

 

4 Jay Leno
The whole Leno thing is sort of complex. Things got off to a bad start for him when Johnny jlCarson retired in 1992 and NBC couldn’t decide who should get the Tonight Show gig. Leno ultimately got the job, but lost supporters along the way. It didn’t help when a book called The Late Shift was published in 1994 and exposed just how insecure & desperate he had been about keeping the job. And then after nearly two decades of solidly entertaining the masses Jay was dumped after a 5 year transition plan that the knuckleheads at NBC had to have been drunk to even fathom might work. Why would you replace a guy that had been winning the ratings?? To keep Conan O’Brien?? Really?? Anyway, once again Leno came out looking bad after eventually “taking back” the Tonight Show instead of doing what he should’ve done…tell NBC to shove it and walk away, likely right into a new show on Fox or in syndication. On top of these controversies Jay Leno was often criticized as being lame & old-fashioned. That criticism isn’t necessarily invalid, but I think it’s a bit harsh. He certainly never pushed the envelope and rarely did anything wacky. I think in his mind the Tonight Show had been successful for many years and he wasn’t going to even try to re-invent the wheel. He believed that the formula that had worked in the 70’s & 80’s would still work. Did it?? The ratings seemed to indicate that it did, but you’d probably have no problem finding folks who will claim fervently that Leno sucked. His monologue was topical and often political, although I thought he was usually even-handed, especially in comparison to his competition. He had been a successful stand-up comic so obviously it was a strength. I thoroughly enjoyed “Headlines” on Monday nights, but there are those who will cite the bit as a prime example of Leno being old & out-of-touch since newspapers had become archaic, while the aforementioned Fallon was making copious use of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. Over the years he made hay with big news stories like the OJ Simpson trial & the Hugh Grant hookerpalooza. His interviews were solid. I understand why NBC chose Jay Leno in 1992. He was a fun, comfortable, approachable, safe presence at 11:30pm…just like his predecessor. Society may have developed a thirst for edgier, more rebellious entertainment, but there is still a place for laid-back, pleasant, old school amusement. Leno gave us that. People may not really miss him all that much, but we’re fortunate that he filled a void as well as he did for as long as he did.

 

 

3 Tom Snyder
God I miss Tom Snyder. He was The Man!! I was too young to have caught him on Tomorrow, a show that aired on NBC at 1am on weeknights TS2throughout the 1970’s. Apparently he also had a program on CNBC in the early 90’s, but I believe I was still a drunken frat boy at the time. At any rate, I became familiar with Snyder when he hosted the inaugural incarnation of the Late Late Show at 12:30am on CBS in the mid-90’s. It still ticks me off that some genius at CBS thought it was a good idea to replace Snyder with former ESPN snarkmaster Craig Kilborn in 1999. What drive-thru is Kilborn manning these days?? Is he still alive?? Does anyone care?? Snyder’s Late Late Show was a one-on-one conversation much like Costas’ Later, but the hosts couldn’t be more different. When I did my 50 Favorite TV Shows a few years back, I ranked Later 18th and Snyder’s Late Late Show 25th. In retrospect I believe I might reverse that simply because Tom Snyder was such a matchless presence on the TV screen. He had a deep, resonant voice and a smoky, infectious laugh. He had the gravitas that comes with decades spent as a radio & television reporter, but didn’t seem to take himself too seriously. He could conduct a thoughtful interview or relax & have fun…sometimes both within the same hour. Snyder was the kind of guy that one suspects drank & smoked a bit too much in his down time, but he came from an era when that was acceptable, even cool…not the politically correct, health conscious, information obsessed, afraid of everything 21st century. Snyder had no sidekick or house band. He’d just banter with unseen beings, presumably producers & directors of the program. He’d slyly encourage the audience to enjoy a beverage while watching/listening, calling the theoretical drink a colortini or simultini (because the show was simulcast on radio & TV). And he would tell stories. Tom Snyder had been around. He knew people. He’d done things & went places. I could have listened to him laugh & tell stories for hours. The dude could have done a boxed set of CDs filled with him simply talking, chuckling, & telling stories and 15 years after he left the air I’d still be listening to them. Thank goodness for YouTube.

 

 

2 David Letterman
I don’t know what else I can say about Letterman that I haven’t already said. His tenure in late dlnight television can be neatly divided into two periods…the decade he spent at the helm of NBC’s Late Night and the two decades+ that he hosted CBS’s Late Show. The NBC years were fresh, innovative, & funny. The CBS years can be further divided, with the first half being a slightly more mature yet just as amusing version of what Letterman had accomplished at NBC, and the latter half being somewhat stale comfort food tinged with cynicism and bereft of the originality that had made the host a star. Early Letterman was groundbreaking, must-see TV (if I may borrow a phrase), and old Letterman, even though he was resting on his laurels & coasting to the finish line on fumes, was still better than most of his peers. Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back I think that NBC probably made a mistake all those years ago. Dave probably should have gotten the Tonight Show, and Leno could have been rewarded with the 12:30 show. How would late night have looked if that’d happened?? The obvious casualty would have been Conan O’Brien, who’d probably still be a comedy writer for various TV shows. I would have been okay with that…no great loss. CBS & ABC would probably still have ended up getting into the late night game eventually, and guys like Fallon & Kimmel probably would have ended up with hosting gigs somewhere. But the 1-2 punch of Letterman & Leno on NBC could have been a juggernaut thru the 90’s and into the 21st century. Ahhh what might have been.

 

 

1 Johnny Carson
The undisputed King of Late Night. Unmatched. Unchallenged. Oh there were people that jctried…Chevy Chase, Joan Rivers, Arsenio Hall, Pat Sajak. They all failed. Television was different during Carson’s reign. There were fewer channels. Nothing aired 24/7. Obviously we didn’t have The Internet. It is fair to say that Johnny had little legitimate competition and ponder whether he’d be as successful now. However, that’s probably an unfair question. Almost everything…music, television, clothing, technology…is a product of its time. Very few things are timeless. Letterman wouldn’t have clicked had he came onto the scene a decade earlier. Leno, accused of being obsolete & unfunny by some, might have been considered edgy & daring if he’d been center stage in the 80’s. Half of Fallon’s shtick revolves around ideas that weren’t even around in the 90’s. It’s all relative. Johnny Carson was the right man with the best job at the exact time in history that happened to be a perfect fit. He was 2/3 of the way thru his run on the Tonight Show by the time I became a fan. I never sensed the weariness in him that seemed to hinder Letterman’s stretch run, but then again I don’t recollect the early years that would enable a comparison. All I know is that throughout my childhood, through high school, & into college Johnny Carson was as much a part of Americana as fast cars, mac & cheese, rock n’ roll, and fireworks on the Fourth of July. Other late night hosts have come & gone. Several are still plugging away, doing their best to make us laugh every night after the local news. But Carson is the measuring stick, the gold standard. He always has been and likely always will be.

Superfluous 7 Favorite Stand-Up Comedians

My man Michael Wilbon recently posted a video commentary…for no apparent reason…on comedythe PTI Facebook page about his Top 10 stand-up comics. Because Wilbon, as erudite as he seems on TV, is subconsciously a militant black man and a throwback 60’s radical his list was, shall we say, just a little bit prejudiced. It wasn’t too terrible I suppose, but it had Wanda Sykes for God’s sake, a woman who is only mildly amusing at her best, while leaving off 2 or 3 certified comedy legends. My dismay with this absurd display of racially biased poppycock has inspired me to create my own ranking. I have made a concerted effort to eschew the kind of poor taste & obvious sociopolitical slant shown by Wilbon, but to be fair we are all a product of our background, bound to be influenced by the time & place in which we were raised and the things to which we were or were not exposed. I’m about 15 years younger than Wilbon, was raised in small town WV as opposed to Chicago, and watched way too much TV as a kid. I am a child of the 80’s (with fond memories of the late 70’s) and became an adult in the 90’s. I do think my rankings are better & more reasonable than the list that motivated this effort, but others may disagree. So be it.


comedy2In pondering this idea I had a lot of names pop into my head. It became necessary to create parameters. The focus here is on stand-up comedy…just a guy (or lady) on stage with a microphone in front of a live audience. Many of the best comedians have gone on to star in TV series or become movie stars. That’s fine, but that’s not what this is about. Jimmy Fallon may have once done stand-up comedy, but in my mind he is an SNL alum who went on to do a few forgettable films and now hosts the Tonight Show. Same deal with David Letterman. To me he is a talk show host that has been a centerpiece of late night television for ¾ of my life. At any rate, even with those self-imposed boundaries the list was overflowing, so we will begin with some Honorable Mentions that didn’t quite make the cut for one reason or another.

 

Honorable Mention

Tim Allen
His stand-up routines landed him a successful sitcom which he parlayed into a mediocre film career, so I think of him primarily as a comedic actor.

Billy Crystal
I LOVE Crystal, but to me he is an actor & awards show host.

Bob Newhart
His standup career was before my time. I remember him as the star of two of TV’s more underappreciated sitcoms.

Don Rickles
He’s funny, but his career trajectory plateaued before I was born.

Johnny Carson & Jay Leno
I know them primarily as two long time hosts of the Tonight Show.

Bob Hope
An undisputed legend, but one whose career peaked long before I was born and who I fondly recall as hosting the occasional variety show special on TV.

Steve Martin
I realize he was a revolutionary stand-up comic in the 70’s, but I know him mainly as a film actor and for his numerous appearances on SNL.

Garry Shandling
Funny, but not quite elite. I recall him as a frequent guest host on the Tonight Show and remember his first sitcom on Showtime in the late 80’s.

Buddy Hackett
He was before my time. I remember him mostly for his guest appearances on Carson’s Tonight Show in the 1980’s.

Sam Kinison
Sadly Kinison was gone far too soon, killed by a teenage drunk driver at the age of 38. Kinison was obnoxious, controversial, & often blasphemous, but he was funny. It would have been really interesting to see how he might have evolved. Would he have softened with age?? Would he have become a caricature of himself, still trying to be the loud, abrasive rebel even as an elder statesman of comedy?? Or would he have just flamed out & faded away once his shtick started to grow old?? We’ll never know, and that’s too bad.

Steven Wright
Wright’s deadpan delivery is unmistakable yet kind of defines him as a one trick pony. Amusing in small doses, but there is a reason he never became a huge star.

Ron White
I gave this spot to White over Jeff Foxworthy because I think he is funnier. His humor seems kind of restricted to a specific southern demographic, which is fine by me but limits his star power and accessibility to the masses.

Gallagher
You know & love him as the prop comedian who busts watermelons with a sledgehammer. It’s a gimmick that has narrowly defined his career for four decades.

Andrew Dice Clay
He’s funny & memorable enough to get a mention, but just too vulgar to be ranked amongst the best.

Andy Kaufman
It is difficult to describe exactly what Andy Kaufman did on stage. He was more of a performance artist than a traditional standup comedian. It seemed as if he was trying to entertain himself more than anyone else, and if that meant offending, annoying, & confusing the audience then that was just dandy. Kaufman is another artist that we lost far too early, as he succumbed to lung cancer at age 35. I remember him mostly as Latka Gravis on the sitcom Taxi, a role that he allegedly despised.

Redd Foxx
To me he is iconic junk king Fred G. Sanford from the 70’s sitcom Sanford & Son. However, before that role he had a long & successful career as a crude & profane stand-up comic. That was in the 50’s & 60’s though…way way way before my time, and in an era when profanity was actually shocking instead of the accepted norm.

 

Okay, so now that the honorable mentions are out of the way it’s time to move to the main attraction. To be honest I wish more of these guys worked “clean”, but it’s rare to find a comedian who does that nowadays. We live in an era in which F Bombs and sexual humor sells, so that’s what many do. It’s not my preference, but for the most part I think my choices would still be funny if they took the road less traveled instead of conforming to low worldly standards. At any rate, sit down, enjoy a cold beverage, and maybe chuckle, chortle, guffaw, & giggle as I present…..

 

 

 

From the home office in Happy, TX…..

 

 

 

My Superfluous 7 Favorite Stand-Up Comedians:

 

 

 

7 Eddie Murphy / Richard Pryor
murphyY’all should know by now, there will be ties. These guys are legends, with Pryor being the trailblazer who heavily influenced Murphy. Pryor’s stand-up career was en fuego in the 1970’s when I was just a baby. By the time I got to the age where I was consciously making entertainment choices and discovering what I enjoy Pryor, like so many others, had segued into acting. It is really interesting that a vast majority of comedians cite Richard Pryor as a huge influence. He really did make it look easy. His comedy was edgy & vulgar, yet accessible to the masses. Perhaps one of the most regrettable byproducts of Pryor’s legacy is that so many comics believe that peppering their act with a plethora of F-Bombs & other profanities is hysterically funny. I suppose it was humorous in a shocking kind of way when he did it, but now it’s just derivative & tedious. Murphy’s career has been all over the place, with a prominent chunk of the early 80’s spent as a cast member on SNL followed by a three pryordecade movie career with some hits (48 Hrs., Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America) and a lot of misses (The Golden Child, Vampire in Brooklyn, Pluto Nash, Norbitt). In between those gigs, for a brief time in the mid-80’s, he was a comedy rock star that did a few really good HBO specials that became big sellers on home video. Unfortunately Eddie Murphy seemed to buy into the whole movie star fantasy and has become more aloof & pretentious over the years.

 

6 Chris Rock / Dennis Miller
rockI don’t often agree with Rock’s politics, but there is no denying that he is an intelligent, thoughtful guy whose observational comedy is a cut above. Much of his humor has racial overtones, but I’ve rarely found it racist. It is more like a brutally honest, undeniably subjective worldview to which I can’t relate. In contrast, Miller’s philosophies & attitudes are much more in line with my own. He also is a smart & solicitous dude whose comedy was tinged with insightful commentary about life even before he became a regular guest on political talk shows. Miller doesn’t dumb down his comedy for the masses. You either get the odd analogies & obscure references he makes or you don’t, and he’s not going to slow down and draw a picture for you. Both Rock & Miller had notable runs on Saturday Night Live. Rock has gone on to be a run-of-the-mill movie star in mostly pedestrian films, millerwhile Miller has dabbled in the whole talk show host thing (I really wanted him to be the guy to replace Letterman), did a season in the booth on Monday Night Football (not a good fit), & in recent years has become bogged down as a political pundit. I’d love to see him get back into doing stand-up.

 

5 Jim Gaffigan / Bill Cosby
gaffiganOkay…let’s first address the elephant in the room. I am not here to judge what Cosby may or may not have done in his personal life. That’s not my place, and I think the damage that has been done to his legacy speaks for itself. Both of these men do basically work “clean”, which is good. The foundation of their humor is family, marriage, children, & relationships. They tell stories that many folks recognize from their own lives. It’s easygoing & affable. Their comedy isn’t meanspirited, edgy, or brash. Cosby, of course is…or was…a living legend that has done movies & TV shows and has generally been a part of the entertainment landscape for a half century. Gaffigan has been around for about a cosbydecade. He’s a soft-spoken, self-deprecating guy who likes to joke about being fat & lazy, comedy to which I can relate. Young comedians need to study these guys and understand that intelligent, relevant, witty comedy doesn’t need to be vulgar, obnoxious, or malevolent.

 

4 Frank Caliendo / Denis Leary
caliendoBy far my favorite kind of comedian is one who can do spot-on impressions. If I could ask God for any fun & frivolous talent I’d probably choose being able to do impressions over singing, dancing, or playing an instrument. Older generations might prefer Rich Little, but to be honest I was never that enamored with Little. Caliendo hasn’t become the sort of superstar that landed his own sitcom, but he’s done a wide variety of media appearances…MadTV, Fox NFL Sunday, & a ton of radio shows…and is a regular in Vegas. He does awesome impressions of folks like Al Pacino, Morgan Freeman, President George W. Bush, & Robin Williams, as well as a ton of sportscentric impersonations such as ESPN personalities Mel Kiper Jr., Adam Shefter, & Stephen A. Smith, former coaches John learyMadden & Jon Gruden, Charles Barkley, Jim Rome, and Bill Walton. I think Caliendo is brilliant. Leary has segued into acting now, but at one time in the early 90’s he was a chain smoking, fast talking, “angry” comedian…kind of a toned down Sam Kinison…and he was hilarious. His comedy album No Cure for Cancer is classic and helped make dreary days at a tedious job more tolerable for me in the mid-1990’s. Leary was a much better stand-up comic than he is an actor, and I hope he goes back to what he does best someday.

 

3 Jerry Seinfeld
Yes I am aware that Mr. Seinfeld starred in a highly rated sitcom. As a matter of fact I chose Seinfeld as my favorite TV show of all time just a few years ago. However, that show was based, atleast partly, on the observational comedy of its star. Seinfeld was a celebrated comedian throughout the 1980’s, with his casual, conversational style playing really well on television in appearances with Johnny Carson and David Letterman. Seinfeld comes across as a kind of everyman, a guy it’d be fun to have lunch with or go on a road trip. Much like the beloved television show his standup comedy is about the trivialities, conundrums, seinfeldfrustrations, & contradictions of daily life. In contrast to guys like Kinison or Leary he isn’t particularly angry, and unlike Pryor, Murphy, or Dice he is far from profane. I would describe Seinfeld as perpetually bemused by the fickle nature of humanity. People like him just have a whole different way of looking at the world. They see things that most people overlook…and then they tell funny stories & jokes about what they perceive. Thankfully that perception is often quite entertaining. I always thought Seinfeld would end up hosting a late night show, but the stardom he achieved with his sitcom skyrocketed him past that. He doesn’t have to work that hard or often now. He hosts an amusing talk show called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which you can find online, and thankfully he has gone back to doing standup. Maybe one day I’ll get the opportunity to see him perform live.

 

2 Robin Williams
Robin Williams was like Jerry Seinfeld on cocaine. Literally. Sadly we lost Williams last year, but his legacy is rock solid. He, of course, became well-known in the early 80’s on the sitcom Mork & Mindy, and after that starred in a plethora of mostly good films. But Williams began as a standup comedian and never completely left it behind. On stage he did it all…jokes, stories, improv, pratfalls, impressions, observation. It is hard to put him in a box and categorize his williamscomedy. Robin Williams was manic, silly, intelligent, & creative. He was brilliant. His energy was unmatched. He always made me laugh. And not just a light snicker. I’m talking about wall shaking, tears in my eyes laughter that made others think I’d lost my mind. Hindsight informs us that the energy level was often drug induced, and sadly we also know that the comedy that made us laugh hid pain & depression that would ultimately lead to suicide. I don’t really know what to say about all of that. Unfortunately the tragic ending will likely forever alter the opinions of many about Robin Williams. I understand that, but for the purposes of this exercise choose to remember the good times.

 

1 George Carlin
George Carlin had a career unlike any other. He began doing standup in the 60’s and was still working nearly 50 years later. He dabbled a little bit in television & movies, but pretty much stuck to being a standup comedian. His observational comedy was a bit more acerbic, and many might say that in later years he bordered on meanspirited & angry. Carlin was a product of the counterculture 60’s and always had a bit of that “I’m smarter than you” attitude. In the 70’s he came up with his well-known routine The 7 Words You Can Never Say on Television, which seems a bit quaint now. I won’t repeat any of the words, but I will say that, as carlinopposed to four decades ago, I think I’ve heard atleast 3 or 4 of the forbidden words on network TV just this week. I didn’t really discover Carlin until the 80’s when he had several specials on HBO. By then he’d started doing a lot more sociopolitical commentary, much of it the complete opposite of my own worldview. However, I can usually overlook such disagreements and still find someone funny. While Jerry Seinfeld seems amused by humanity’s shortcomings they seemed to really tick George Carlin off. Sometimes this was hilarious, sometimes it wasn’t. The stuff I preferred from Carlin were his observations about language. He would talk about how language had evolved, mostly due to political correctness. Battle fatigue has become PTSD. Used cars are now pre-owned. Stewardesses are now flight attendants. Deaf people are hearing impaired & a person isn’t blind but has a visual impairment. I could go on but you get the point. Carlin was at his best when he was dissecting the idiocy of political correctness, something it seems like he hated as much as I do. That alone vaults him to the top of this list, despite everything he believed in that I disagree with.

25 Favorite TV Theme Songs…..Part 2

tvmusicWelcome to Part 2 of my Favorite TV Theme Songs. Please check out Part 1 if you have not already done so. I will remind you that these choices reflect my own unique taste and life experiences. You may agree or disagree with my rankings. Please leave me comments (be nice) suggesting your favorites that I may have skipped over. Now on with the show!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15 Frasier
Frasier’s theme song was actually played during the closing credits, which seems a bit counterintuitive. I assume there were two reasons for this though. First, jumping right into the show at the beginning rather than playing a theme song might possibly maybe kinda sorta provide a small advantage over the competition in gaining the viewership of people, like my Dad for example, who flip thru channels like a crackhead with the attention span of a gnat. Secondly, maybe it keeps the attention of viewers at the end of the show and helps whatever program comes next. Anyway, Tossed Salad & Scrambled Eggs was a nonsensical tune that had to have been written by someone who was high and thought it was h-i-l-a-r-i-o-u-s. I spent a decade watching the show and trying to figure out exactly what in the heck it meant. I still don’t know. What I do know is that the tune, sung by series star Kelsey Grammar, is unique and obviously memorable.

 

 

14 The Addams Family
They’re creepy. They’re kooky. They’re altogether ooky. They are the Addams Family of course!! You’re snapping your fingers right now aren’t you?? The show was based on a series of cartoons that began appearing in The New Yorker in the 1930’s. It only lasted two seasons in the mid-60’s and was off the air before my father had even met my mother, but thanks to syndicated reruns in the 80’s I came to love it and its infectious & quirky theme song.

 

 

13 WKRP in Cincinnati
The WKRP theme song spins a tale. It’s about someone (presumably program director Andy Travis) who is writing to an ex-girlfriend hoping that maybe she thinks of him occasionally even though they weren’t meant to be. He has apparently had an unstable professional life of which he has grown weary but has finally settled down at this pugnacious little station in Cincinnati, OH. The song may not fully set up the premise of the show, but it does tell a story and I like that. These days listening to the WKRP theme makes me wistful. It makes me long for the days when sitcoms were funny and songs on the radio were awesome. Those were good times.

 

 

12 The Dukes of Hazzard
When I was a kid I LOVED The Dukes of Hazzard. I still do. Various TV stations broadcast reruns with some regularity and I watch whenever I get the chance. Country music has never frosted my cupcake, but I definitely dig the Dukes theme, which was composed & performed by the legendary Waylon Jennings (who also narrated the show). Good Ol’ Boys, which actually reached #1 on the country charts in 1980, solidly outlines the program’s premise, telling us that these two harmless guys are always in trouble with the law because they fight the system like two modern day Robin Hoods. They just don’t make shows or write theme songs like this anymore. Such a shame.

 

 

11 Friends
I’ll be There for You was a one hit wonder for a pop duo called The Rembrandts. It’s an upbeat, rockin’ tune that might have been a hit all by itself, but if not for Friends it would have never existed. The song was written by the show’s producers, who originally offered the opportunity to sing it to 80’s alternative rockers They Might Be Giants (who went on to do the theme for Malcolm in the Middle, which I never watched). After that didn’t work out the song was offered to REM, which would have been really awesome, but that didn’t happen either. The Rembrandts, despite their cool band name, never really achieved any lasting success, but I’m sure they are pleased with the residual checks that keep rolling in. The lyrics perfectly describe life for a 20-something (and in my case my 30’s and 40’s thus far as well). Your job is a joke, you’re broke, your love life is dead, it seems like you’re stuck in second gear, it hasn’t been your day, month, or year, and your mother warned you that life has a way of bringing you to your knees…but your friends will be there when it rains because they understand what you’re going thru. It’s a rather deep song for a television theme, and one that I really connected with back in the 90’s.

 

 

10 Welcome Back Kotter / The Facts of Life
Yep…you guessed it…we have another tie. Welcome Back Kotter is a criminally underappreciated program. Everyone knows it launched John Travolta’s career, but aside from that it rarely gets the attention it deserves. One fantastic element of the show that, along with the Travolta connection, has remained in the American pop culture consciousness is the theme song that was composed & sung by John Sebastian, former lead singer of The Lovin’ Spoonful, the band that brought us the 1966 chart topper Summer in the City. It’s a breezy, laid back, very 70’s tune that tells us that Mr. Kotter is originally from Brooklyn (as a matter of fact he was an alumnus of the high school in the show and an original founding member of The Sweathogs) and that he has moved back after his dreams were his original ticket out. I don’t recall if the show ever explained where Mr. Kotter had gone to, what those dreams were (getting an education? becoming a teacher?), or why exactly he felt compelled to return. I suppose that would have been a bit heavy for a sitcom. The Facts of Life was a spinoff of Diff’rent Strokes and lasted an amazing nine seasons. The theme song taught us all that the facts of life meant taking the good with the bad, that they were all about you, and that it takes a lot to get them right. The song was composed by songstress Gloria Loring and her then husband, actor Alan Thicke. Loring sang the Facts theme, while Thicke crooned the other song they’d written…the Diff’rent Strokes theme.

 

 

 

9 Laverne & Shirley
For the record, a schlemiel is what a clumsy blunderer is called in Yiddish. I suppose we may refer to them as a screw-up. Schlimazel is the Yiddish term for an unlucky person. Hasenpfeffer is German rabbit stew. I’m not sure which of Laverne and Shirley was the screw-up and which one was the unlucky one, or what rabbit stew has to do with anything. But let’s face it, that little bit of Eastern European gibberish takes what would have otherwise been an ordinary theme song called Making Our Dreams Come True and makes it one that we’ll always remember.

 

 

8 The Jeffersons
Movin’ On Up basically tells us the premise of the show. We know that George & Louise Jefferson had been neighbors of All in the Family’s Archie & Edith Bunker in Queens. When the spinoff was created George, the well-to-do owner of a dry cleaning chain, and “Weezie” moved to Manhattan. They moved “on up to the sky”, aka a penthouse apartment, finally getting “their piece of the pie”, their “at bat in the big leagues”. I’m not really sure about fish not frying in the kitchen or beans not burning on the grill. Maybe rich people were supposed to stop eating those things?? Anyway, anyone who grew up in the 70’s & 80’s and watched too much TV is familiar with this particular theme and likely recalls it with affection.

 

 

7 The Tonight Show (Johnny Carson)
A few weeks ago former Tonight Show bandleader Doc Severinsen made a guest appearance on the Jimmy Fallon incarnation of the program. At 87 years of age Doc looks like he has hardly grown a day older than he was two decades ago when Carson abdicated his throne as King of Late Night and the entire television landscape changed. As a nod to Doc’s tenure with Carson the house band played the show’s old theme song, the one so closely identified with Carson’s reign. It was a brief but cherished trip down memory lane. The song itself has an interesting history. Toot Sweet was a tinny melody written by Paul Anka in the 50’s. Anka & Annette Funicello dated briefly and she covered Toot Sweet (with lyrics) in 1959, calling it It’s Really Love. When Carson took over The Tonight Show in 1962 Anka revamped the tune into Johnny’s Theme. You did not know that. Wacky wild stuff. Hiyoooooo!!!!

 

 

6 The Beverly Hillbillies
In the 1960’s CBS was home to a plethora of shows that catered to a rustic, small town target audience. The Andy Griffith Show, Green Acres, Mister Ed, Petticoat Junction, & Hee Haw were all set in rural areas with simple, goodhearted country folks as the centerpiece. The Beverly Hillbillies added a fish-out-of-water element to the mix, transporting its family from the hills of an unspecified southern locale to the posh neighborhood of Beverly Hills. The Ballad of Jed Clampett explains that the poor mountaineer had been out hunting when he hit oil (black gold, Texas tea) and became a millionaire. His family encouraged him to use his new wealth to move to California, because I guess back then that seemed like some sort of nirvana, as opposed to the economically & morally bankrupt cesspool it has become. At any rate, the storytelling lyrics combined with some really catchy banjo music has made this particular theme song one of the most beloved in television history.

 

 

5 The Andy Griffith Show
Did you know that the TAGS theme song has lyrics?? I had no clue until a few years ago when Andy Griffith passed away and my buddy Conner, as big of a fan of the show as myself, posted the song on Facebook. The Fishin’ Hole is pretty much what you’d expect…a story about chillin’ out at an idyllic fishing spot. I’m not sure who made the decision to not utilize the words for the TV theme, but it was a brilliant choice. Instead the song is whistled, which just adds to the pleasant & tranquil vibe of the show. I can’t whistle, but if I ever learn how I think I’d just have to perform the TAGS theme for myself on a daily basis. That’d make me happy.

 

 

4 The Flintstones
I wasn’t a huge cartoon fan as a kid, but I did enjoy a few, one of them being The Flintstones. It’s amazing to think that it was a prime time show back in the early 60’s. There is a scene in the 1987 Thanksgiving classic Planes, Trains, & Automobiles where John Candy & Steve Martin are riding in a bus and the rather extroverted (some might say borderline obnoxious) character played by Candy is getting everybody interested in a sing-a-long. He asks Martin’s somewhat aloof character to pick a song, and when he does his best to sell the passengers on the old Sinatra standard Three Coins in the Fountain they all look at him like he just escaped a mental institution. Candy takes over and immediately gets the crowd into a rousing rendition of the Flintstones theme. It’s just that kind of song. Like several other beloved TV themes it is an excellent introduction to the show itself, literally inviting us to meet this modern, Stone Age family from Bedrock and promising that we’re going to have a yabba dabba doo time, which of course we all know by now is a good thing.

 

 

3 Gilligan’s Island / The Brady Bunch
This is our final tie and it seems appropriate for various reasons. Both shows were created by the same guy. Gilligan’s Island aired for three seasons in the mid-60’s, while The Brady Bunch was on the air for five seasons in the early 70’s. I became familiar with both shows because they aired regularly in syndication throughout my childhood. Occasionally you can still find them today on channels like TV Land and Nick at Nite. Both shows are looked at with equal amounts of fondness & derision because thru the prism of our modern culture (the one that has made stars out of Justin Bieber & The Kardashians and thinks reality TV is cool) they seem hokey & trite. Each theme song outlines its show really well and introduce us to every character. The lyrics for both songs were written by series’ creator Sherwood Schwartz. And both theme songs are well-known and cherished by multiple generations.

 

 

2 Cheers
The older I get the more I appreciate class & sophistication. I suppose everyone probably defines those things a bit differently, but I think most people know it when they see it. The Cheers theme songs sets a tone. The show takes place in a bar, and that can mean a variety of things depending on one’s life experiences. This tune clearly establishes that this particular bar is a friendly, relaxed, pleasant, tasteful place to hang out. Where Everybody Knows Your Name communicates that Cheers is a place where people “are always glad you came”, where everyone understands that life can be tough and that sometimes you just have to “take a break from all your worries”. It doesn’t promote “partying” as most young people understand that term, and I can’t recall any character on the show…not even constant beer drinker Norm…becoming intoxicated and doing something stupid or illegal. Unrealistic?? Sure, but that’s fine by me.

 

 

1 The Love Boat
Finally…we’ve reached the summit!!
I’ve never been on a cruise, but I want to try it sometime and that curiosity is, in part, because I grew up watching The Love Boat. I am comfortable enough with my machismo to admit that I never really enjoyed virile tough guy shows like The A-Team, Hill Street Blues, Simon & Simon, Miami Vice, Magnum P.I., or Knight Rider. I am a lover, not a fighter, and prefer the simple half-hour comedy, but occasionally I can be roped into dedicating an hour of my time to a program, especially if it has the kind of quirky charm present in The Love Boat. The theme song was composed by prolific songwriter Paul Williams, known to those of us of a certain age as Little Enos Burdette in Smokey & The Bandit but whose real career includes writing The Carpenters’ hit We’ve Only Just Begun, An Old Fashioned Love Song as sung by Three Dog Night, & the awesome Rainbow Connection for The Muppets. Love Boat was performed by jazz crooner Jack Jones and was meant to evoke the idea of a lounge singer on a cruise ship. Mission accomplished. The song has a disco undertone reminiscent of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana, but also kind of a big band vibe. It doesn’t really detail the premise of the show except to say that the ship “soon will be making another run” and that “it promises something for everyone”. It advises us to “set a course for adventure” and get our minds on romance because love is a) life’s sweetest reward, b) exciting & new, & c) will float back to you if only you let it flow. Now I am old enough & jaded enough to realize that all that is a bunch of poppycock, but it does sound really cool. I am not ashamed to admit that occasionally…when I am alone of course…I will randomly belt out Love Boat, but you should be glad your ears will never be exposed to such cruelty.

Points of Ponderation…..Episode 5.13

A semi-regular attempt to address some of life’s minutiae that might otherwise be overlooked…..

 

 

 

I was recently prescribed a week long course of steroids…a Z-Pak…to treat bronchitis, and I was somewhat taken aback by the side effects. I have always heard about ‘roid rage, but since I am far from a ripped body builder hangin’ at the gym pumping iron I never thought I’d experience it. However, words cannot accurately describe the absolute fury I felt for several days. One evening I deleted probably 20 people from my Facebook  simply because one humorless know-it-all I barely angerremember from college ticked me off. Another night at work my poor co-worker had to hear a quite vociferous rant about job related frustrations, and even though that irritation isn’t anything new I’ve rarely felt…or expressed…such visceral disgust. It’s the medication…I know it is. When I had my weekly weigh-in I gained a pound even though I’d stuck to the program pretty good. Now granted…the symptoms of the bronchitis subsided considerably which I guess is the whole point of the drug, but I am quite uncomfortable with the ancillary issues created.

 

 

It seems that the Late Night Wars may be heating up once again and y’all know that is amongst my favorite frivolous topics of ponderation. The rumor is that NBC suits (them again) are spooked by ABC’s move of Jimmy Kimmel to 11:30pm. Kimmel’s irreverent, wry sense of humor is likely to attract the younger demo…something that Jay Leno is thought unable to do. Basically Kimmel is what David Letterman was 30 years ago and Conan O’Brien almost became in the not so distant past. So the geniuses at The Peacock Network are pushing Leno out the door (again) and moving Jimmy Fallon to 11:30pm. Personally I don’t have a problem with that plan. Leno once upon a time had promise but has grown stale. He’s lenokimmelcomfortable & amiable like Johnny Carson was, but has never quite measured up to the legendary Carson. I’d take things a step further though. Ostensibly Fallon is going to take over The Tonight Show (because that worked out oh so well for Conan), and yet another new host would take over the Late Night show in at 12:30am. But here’s what I’d do. I’d retire The Tonight Show altogether. Any host that takes over that mantle will forever be compared to Carson and can never equal the legend. End that show and just move Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to 11:30pm. He could stay in New York, stay in the same studio…keep everything the same except for the time slot. Remember…having to “change for the 11:30 audience” is what destroyed Conan. I think an evolving society that is increasingly okay with things like teen pregnancy & same sex marriage can handle a revolutionary idea like enjoying the same kind of humor that works at 12:30 an hour earlier. Then you bring back the Later title for the 12:30am show and find a decent host for that gig. I’ve heard the names Tina Fey & Amy Poehler batted around. I’d suggest maybe trying to lure Craig Kilborn back to the late night scene, or possibly Joel McHale. kimmelWhat I’d really love to see is a revival of the one-on-one interview type of show that Bob Costas or Tom Snyder used to do. That’d be awesome if the right host could be found. At any rate, change is coming. Leno has had a nice run and maybe he’ll end up on Fox or Bravo or A&E, or he could just slip into “retirement” and continue doing stand-up like Jerry Seinfeld. I know axing The Tonight Show franchise may seem like a radical idea, but anyone who has been paying attention in 21st century New America knows that there are very few sacred cows anymore. I’d rather see it go into retirement than see Jimmy Fallon be forced to conform to some archaic standard and have his career castrated like Conan’s was a few years ago.

 

 

I don’t talk about my “real” job in this forum for a variety of reasons. I do like to retain some sense of privacy, plus I really don’t want to get fired. But suffice to say that I deal…indirectly…with other people’s problems and I’m kind of getting tired of it. I call it Big Redneck Drama. I am well aware that my childhood & family lifefp was as close to ideal as possible. My parents loved one another, didn’t drink or do drugs, and treated myself & my sister as good as any parents could. That is why I have such a difficult time wrapping my head around some of the absolute idiocy that I am confronted with on a daily basis. At this point in my life it doesn’t seem as though…for whatever reason…God is going to bless me with a wife or children. And I know plenty of people out there who would dearly love to have those things as well but do not or cannot. So it is beyond my limited comprehension why people blessed with a family that others genuinely covet take every opportunity to crap all over what they have been given.

 

 

The equality crowd is at it again. They are all using a pink equal (=) sign as their profile pic on Facebook like good little liberal sheep. That’s their right as Americans, but I’ll be damned if I will support it. The thing is, I really think that most of these peoples’ hearts are in the right place. Equality sounds like a fine idea. Minorities…blacks, women, the disabled…have fought for it for decades or even centuries and still have to wage battle to a degree. But as much as I respect & honor the rule of law I ultimately answer to a higher authority and my God tells me in His Word that homosexuality is shameful, unnatural, lustful, & indecent…an abomination. Both the 7th chapter of Corinthians and the 5th chapter of Ephesians clearly identify marriage as being between a man and a woman. Now, does that bgmean that we are to mistreat or harm those who choose what we consider to be the wrong path?? Of course not. Both myself & God know that I sin far too often, and I am thankful that I am not shunned completely by those who may not agree with my every decision. I’d be a very lonely man if society rejected me for my mistakes. But there is a fine line between rejection & approval. While I believe wholeheartedly that every individual should be treated with a spirit of love, respect, mercy, & compassion I do not think wholesale tacit approval of a deviant lifestyle is the right course for our nation. The U.S. Supreme Court is about to rule on the constitutionality of California’s Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man & one woman. I am doubtful that the law will be upheld, which means that the definition of marriage in America will likely be altered forever. That’s okay. Like I said…at the end of the day I answer to a higher power and it is His way to which I adhere. If that upsets people then that is just something with which I will have to deal.

 

 

So I guess Jim Carrey has written a parody song attacking the late Charlton Heston and defenders of the 2nd Amendment. That’s fine. It is his right to do so, just as it is my right to not watch the stupid video. I don’t follow Carrey on Twitter but I hear58948_JimCarrey.png that he has been kind of an ass on his feed, saying some pretty derogatory things about gun owners. Here’s why I get so annoyed at the hypocrisy of the left though. I guarantee that Mr. Carrey has an armed entourage everywhere he goes and that his home has 24/7 armed security. That’s nice if you can afford it, but for most of us in the working class all that stands between us and evildoers is a .22 or a 9mm or a .44. The Constitution of the United States gives law abiding citizens the right to own firearms. What’s so difficult for the Hollywood elite to understand about that??

 

 

 

 

50 Favorite TV Shows…..The Top 5

I bet you thought I forgot, didn’t you?? Well, I didn’t. Today at long last we conclude the Top 50 Favorite TV Shows series with the Top 5. I am sure there won’t be any big surprises here. All five finalists are generally thought of as being amongst the finest franchises to ever grace the small screen. You’ll see three sitcoms, one drama (or nighttime “soap opera” if you prefer), and one comedy/talk/variety show that has stood the test of time & come into our living rooms for over a half century. Television, like movies, sports, and other forms of entertainment, isn’t necessarily vital to our existence, but it certainly adds an undeniable layer of pleasure and relaxation that can enrich our lives. I appreciate the opportunity to learn something and gain knowledge from any medium…books, music, film, radio, and yes…television. However, at the end of the day a good television show should be…used to be…comfort food for our souls. It should be like an old friend that we welcome into our lives for 30-60 minutes every week (or every night in some cases), that makes us smile & feel content, that when it leaves the airwaves makes us kind of melancholy and nostalgic, and that we remember fondly long after the final episode has aired. These five shows are being lauded for a variety of reasons…smart writing, memorable storylines, great acting, and the indelible mark they have made on pop culture in general and my own life in particular. They are indeed old friends that I miss dearly but have provided a plethora of memories that I will cherish always.

 

 

 

5       Dallas

          CBS 1978-91

One of my fondest childhood memories is sitting in my living room every Friday night at 9pm with both of my parents and my sister watching the adventures of the lecherous & deceitful Ewing clan battle their enemies and each other in the race for power & wealth that only billions of barrels of oil could bring. My father loved the conniving JR Ewing and how he always seemed to be able to come out on top while totally screwing over his wife, his brother, his business rivals, and especially his sworn enemy…the slovenly, woefully overmatched Cliff Barnes. Dallas had elements of Shakespearean tragedy mixed with campy soap opera drama, and in no way resembled the real world. I think that was the key to its charm…even as a child I realized that this was all just great fun and that very few individuals (even rich people) actually behaved that way. It is a show that defined a genre and a generation. It gave us season ending cliffhangers and juicy sneak previews of next week’s episode. It gave us larger-than-life characters and stirring, emotion-filled theater that no “reality” show can ever dream of matching. Dallas was pure escapism, which is kind of the point of watching television, right??

 

 

4       Frasier

          NBC 1993-2004

Rarely does a sequel…or in this case a spin-off…excel to a point that it exceeds its predecessor. However, I must say that as much as I love Cheers I love Frasier even more. I think there are a few reasons for that. First of all, Cheers came about in the 80’s and to be honest I started watching it because it was something my Dad watched (not that there is anything wrong with that). Conversely, Frasier came on the scene when I was on my own in college. I made the conscious, independent, adult decision to watch. Secondly, by the time the 90’s rolled around I was past my “I watch way too much TV” phase. I much preferred hanging out with my friends, drinking copious amounts of adult beverages, and even occasionally studying to watching television. I had a life!! I was too busy for TV. Therefore the few shows that I made a special effort to keep up with during that time had to, by definition, be extraordinary. Also, the setting of Frasier…the professional & personal world of two intelligent yet socially awkward yuppies…spoke to me in a very personal way. I have always envisioned myself as a sort of yuppie-country boy hybrid, so I got a kick out of Frasier & Niles’ odd relationship with their blue collar father and their constant effort to ingratiate themselves into culture & society. The writing was about as quick-witted & razor sharp as any sitcom in the history of television. The characters were smart & relatable and the plots as sophisticated as anything you’ll ever see on a 30 minute comedy show. I’m not sure Frasier was as broad & accessible to the masses as many sitcoms, but that’s okay…dumbed down products don’t appeal to this humble Potentate of Profundity anyway.

 

 

3       The Tonight Show

          NBC 1954-Present

Anything that has lasted 50+ years like The Tonight Show has to be doing something right and must be given its due. It is undoubtedly the gold standard against which all other shows of its ilk are measured. Now I am way too young to have watched during the Steve Allen or Jack Paar years. Rather, I came along in the midst of the Johnny Carson era, and what a time it was. Admittedly I didn’t get to watch the show back then as often as I would have liked…afterall, 11:30pm is a bit late for a young boy who has school the following day. But I usually watched every Friday night during the school year and in the summertime got to see it more often. Carson was born to host a late night talk show. His monologue was always funny and current, but didn’t have the self-important, smartass edge that seems to be the norm today. He was an easygoing, smooth interviewer. And an appearance with Carson on The Tonight Show…especially if he gave the “okay” sign or waved the performer over to the couch for a chat…could legitimately make a young comedian’s career. That’s how far our society has fallen: from having the goal of making the preeminent funny man in show business laugh in order to launch a career, to saying “Ehhh…maybe I’ll just make a sex tape or do a reality show.” Personally I preferred the former protocol. At any rate, even Johnny’s retirement took late night television to a whole new level. The battle between Jay Leno & David Letterman brought much publicity, and eventually gave us more competition in the time slot, which is good for viewers. Leno took the Tonight Show mantle and was almost as solidly & comfortingly funny as Carson for many years. Then there was more controversy, Conan O’Brien got his shot, and eventually Leno returned. I didn’t like how that whole thing went down but hindsight being 20/20 I guess it all worked out. Conan wasn’t the right fit, and despite the fact that I think he handled the situation poorly the fact is that Leno is a worthy successor to Carson. At the end of the day (literally), we all just want to relax, put our troubles on the backburner, laugh a little, and forget how badly humanity can totally suck. Whether one does that by watching a movie, reading a book, praying, or making sweet love to a significant other, it’s all good. And it’s nice to know that amongst our plethora of choices The Tonight Show has been a viable option for so many years.

 

 

2       The Andy Griffith Show

          CBS 1960-68

I have been dreading this moment. Why?? Well, because while I feel like I am a decent enough writer I am unsure if I can come up with the exact right words to properly encapsulate not only my own but the world’s admiration for The Andy Griffith Show. It was…is…precisely everything a television show should be and more. Mayberry may ostensibly be a fictional town, but it is a place that I desperately wish was real and would absolutely move to in a heartbeat. The people are friendly, the pace is slow, and any problems that arise are easily solved with a little old-fashioned ingenuity and good solid love, understanding, and neighborliness. It is fascinating to think that this show was produced in the midst of the raucous counterculture 60’s but never dared to go near any of the controversy that decade manufactured. Now I suppose touchy feely, bleeding heart, politically correct types would consider that a damning indictment of The Andy Griffith Show, but I think it is part of its genius. Whereas so many modern television programs strive to be current, hip, & edgy, and utilize storylines “ripped from the headlines”, the powers-that-be in Mayberry understood that real life was hard enough, that when one sits down to watch TV they want to be entertained not preached at or talked down to. They understood that traditional values like friendship, family, kindness, hospitality, empathy, and respect for the law could be communicated in a way that was funny, inviting, and palatable. The Andy Griffith Show embodies everything great that America once was and could be again. I know that times have changed. We live in a different world these days. Entertainment seems to be all about sex, drugs, violence, werewolves, vampires, hating God, and embarrassing stupidity (Honey Boo-Boo?? Please, just shoot me.) I am so thankful that, even though this show was long gone before I was ever born, reruns have continued for over 40 years. Think about that for a second. This is such a great show that four decades after it went off the air it is still being shown. That is remarkable!! I get an opportunity to watch it every weekday at 12:30pm right after the afternoon news. I even interrupt my post-midnight shift daytime nap for it. We lost Andy Griffith just a few months ago, and almost all the rest of the cast (Don Knotts, Frances Bavier, George Lindsey, Jack Dodson, Hal Smith, etc.) have also gone to be with The Lord (Ron Howard, Jim Nabors, and Betty Lynn are still with us). However, the memories that they all created over 8 years & 249 episodes will remain forever, and for that I say a most heartfelt Thank You.

 

 

1       Seinfeld

          NBC 1989-98

As we reach the pinnacle a few things must be said. First of all, Seinfeld beats out Andy Griffith in a photo finish for one simple reason…it was on the air in my lifetime and I enjoyed it as it was happening rather than enjoying it in reruns several decades after it was gone. Secondly, I am more than a little surprised (even though this is my list) that a 90’s show comes out on top. I would have thought an 80’s show would have received the honor. And finally, the contrast between #1 & #2 couldn’t possibly be starker. Whereas Griffith is gentle, benevolent, and laid-back, Seinfeld boldly embraces the brash callousness, egotism, and pessimism of not only its NY City setting but of its era. However, it does this in such a way that is completely hilarious, more than a little ironic, and overwhelmingly self-aware. Jerry Seinfeld was The It Comedian at a time when the thing to do was give comedians their own sitcom. Sometimes it works (Gabe Kaplan/Welcome Back Kotter, Tim Allen/Home Improvement, Bob Newhart/Newhart, Bill Cosby/The Cosby Show, Ray Romano/Everybody Loves Raymond), sometimes it doesn’t (George Lopez/The George Lopez Show, Brett Butler/Grace Under Fire, Roseanne Barr/Roseanne, Ellen Degenerate/Ellen, DL Hughley/The Hughleys), but Seinfeld most definitely worked. When a show has been off the air for more than a decade and folks can still recite memorable lines and recall the plots of entire shows it says to me that the show was memorable and extremely well-written. It was always promoted as “a show about nothing”, and lived up to that promise. While lots of other programs would tackle big topics and have a point-of-view about certain themes, Seinfeld instead concentrated on life’s minutiae and mundane details. The supporting cast (Jerry’s ex Elaine, his next door neighbor Kramer, and his best friend George) was probably amongst the best in television history. As characters they were self-absorbed, insecure, cynical, superficial, and insensitive…but hysterically so. How many shows could take simple, relatable concepts like waiting for a table at a restaurant, forgetting where you parked the car in the mall garage, dealing with an eccentric boss, or leaving a regrettable voicemail, and turn them into 30 minutes of laughs that people remember 20 years later?? The answer is not many. Jerry Seinfeld himself was never a great actor, but he was saved by the writing and his superb co-stars. Seinfeld had the good fortune to come along at the perfect time. A decade earlier and it would have been dismissed as too mean-spirited and esoteric, a decade later it would have been lost amidst the white noise of shows trying too hard to be edgy, post-modern, and sardonic. We the viewers were the beneficiary of that perfect timing, and for that we should all be appreciative.

 

 

 

Person of the Month – January 2010

Better late than never, right??

I mentioned in The State of The Manofesto Address awhile back my intention to revive a feature that was a part of the old blog on MySpace in 2008. My intention was to post this over the weekend, but obviously that didn’t happen. I could lie and say I was busy, but that’s simply not the case. At any rate, I find myself with a small burst of creative energy (something I have been lacking the past few weeks) and some free time at the moment, so you’re welcome.

The decision of who would receive January’s honor (which comes with no cash prize but the distinguished privilege of receiving attention from my dozens and dozens of readers) was fairly easy. On January 10 NBC announced the “cancellation” of The Jay Leno Show, which had aired weeknights at 10pm for four months. The plan was to put Leno’s show in a 30 minute format at 11:35pm and push back The Tonight Show, which had been hosted by Conan O’Brien since June, to 12:05am. What NBC did not count on was the defiance of O’Brien, who flat out refused to host The Tonight Show at a time when, as someone amusingly pointed out, it would no longer technically be tonight. Conan showed he had a set the size of basketballs and most definitely made of brass. That kind of strength of character is more than enough to make Conan O’Brien our Person of the Month.

It might behoove us at this point to briefly go back in time, first to 1992 then to 2004. In 1992 Johnny Carson shocked the masses by suddenly retiring from The Tonight Show after 30 years. What should have happened was that David Letterman would become Tonight’s new host and Leno, who had been Carson’s regular guest host for several years, get his own show at 12:30. Instead the geniuses at NBC wrung their hands and let both men twist in the wind before ultimately choosing Leno for the gig, which then lead to Letterman getting ticked off and bolting for his own 11:30 show on CBS. To take over their 12:30 show NBC chose a complete unknown, a writer for The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live who had absolutely no on air experience. That unknown was of course O’Brien. The first few years of his show were, if I am being kind, subpar. But something funny began to happen…literally. By 2004 Conan’s contract was almost up and he was suddenly quite popular and in demand. NBC was desperate to hold on to him, so they brokered a deal in which he would take over The Tonight Show in 2009. Leno, perfecting his nice guy act, went along with that plan. There is really no logical reason.

Now let us flash ahead to last year. Leno was the reigning King of Late Night and the idea of pushing him aside for Conan began to look silly to anyone with a brain. However, the powers-that-be at NBC apparently don’t have much going in the brain department, so they forged ahead. The network geniuses began to formulate a plan for keeping both Jay and Conan. The solution was to give Leno a show at 10pm. Not being a big fan of the normal cops and lawyer shows or hospital dramas typically seen at that hour, I personally liked the idea. Unfortunately the masses disagreed, the ratings tanked, and the show was given the heave ho after 4 months. Meanwhile, Conan’s Tonight Show ratings were also less than stellar. That’s when then aforementioned plan…Jay for a half hour at 11:30, The Tonight Show at midnight…was hatched and subsequently crapped on by Conan.

The fallout from all this has been interesting. Leno is returning to Tonight after The Olympics are over, and Conan was given a boatload of money by NBC to go away. Other late night hosts, most notably Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel, have interjected themselves into the situation and had a ton of fun at NBC and Leno’s expense. Most agree that Leno has shown his true colors, that he is not the innocent nice guy he usually portrays himself to be. Conan, on the other hand, comes out of all this smelling like a rose. He is the scorned victim who did nothing wrong but lost his job anyway. He received millions of dollars to sit on the sidelines for the next several months, and presumably will land firmly on his feet with an 11:30 show on ABC or Fox in September. And he stood up for something bigger than himself. He did what so many people don’t do these days…..he stayed true to his principles and beliefs.

Some may say that Conan was foolish, that he should have accepted the proposed time slot change and kept his mouth shut. Apparently he felt that such a change would be harmful to the success of both his show and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Who knows whether that is the case or not?? No one does really. But I respect a man who not only talks the talk but walks the walk. It is certainly a stark contrast to Leno, who now seems like a used car salesman or a televangelist…someone who will do or say anything to get what he wants and fool the masses into thinking he is a much better person than he is in reality, just another disingenuous poser. In the grand scheme of life late night television does not really have any measurable impact on the importance scale, but for all the laughs the situation provided the past several weeks and because he really does seem like the only honorable player in this dramedy, Conan O’Brien is our Person of the Month.

 

 

 

Random Thoughts 6

C.S. Lewis was a brilliant writer. If only I could be half as gifted I’d be thrilled.

 

As a night owl I am really liking the state of late night television these days. When I was a kid there was really only one choice…The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Oh a few pretenders came along to challenge him, but they were all subpar and didn’t last long. I loved Carson, but I also like choices. Now we have Conan O’Brien doing The Tonight Show and also David Letterman, who’s still brilliant after all these years, at 11:30. At 12:30 we have Jimmy Fallon and Craig Ferguson. Jimmy Kimmel follows Nightline (a show that has never been my cup of tea) at midnight. And Jay Leno, who some criticize as being lackluster, a milquetoast compared to Letterman’s acerbic smartass, moves to 10pm. I’ve always enjoyed Leno immensely myself. I find him pleasantly enjoyable, and he is no doubt taking the spot of five uninspired, banal dramas (atleast 3 of them probably being some form of Law & Order) that I wouldn’t watch anyway. I am glad he’s not disappearing from my TV screen permanently. I sincerely like all these hosts and their shows. Overall, the late night landscape has never been better.

 

Psalm 188:24 says “this is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it”. I hear a lot of church folk quoting this scripture, but only on warm and sunny days, as if God doesn’t take responsibility for rain or snow or cold. Interesting.

 

That alarm Susan Boyle hears is the sound of her 15 minutes of fame ending. Or maybe it’s chow time at the nut house.

 

So…recently, there was an incident. The details aren’t important. The incident itself was insignificant to everyone but me and I am fully aware of that fact. Suffice to say that I was screwed over and got upset. Even as it was happening I said to myself “no one really understands how I feel and I have to be cautious not to say too much because it will get turned around on me and it’ll be MY fault.” Sure enough, later that evening my prediction came true and the whole situation somehow ended up being my fault because I “should have said something” when the truth is I should have never have had to speak up and ask for what I didn’t get. People…people who have known me my entire life, people who are RELATED to me…are inconsiderate to me yet it’s my fault. Unbelievable.

 

It’s amazing how the bought and paid for drive-by media is now going out of their way to put a positive spin on an economy that’s still just as bad if not worse than it was 6 months ago. The difference between then and now?? 6 months ago the reviled George W. Bush was President, and now it’s the so-revered-its-nauseating Barack Hussein Obama. I mean seriously…every time I hear a reporter on TV talking about Obama I feel like I’ve just accidentally spied on two people making tender yet passionate love to one another.