100 Memorable TV Characters…Part 3

 

Television is chewing gum for the eyes.  –  Frank Lloyd Wright

 

 

 

 

My father & I occasionally hearken back to the late February day 18 years ago when we laid my mother to rest. We always recall how blessed our family was with such a beautiful sunny day, because on top of our grief it would have been that much more difficult to go thru the whole process in the midst of rain, snow, & chilly temperatures. We’ve been fortunate to once again have had some unseasonably temperate days here in West Virginia lately, and since I am a self-diagnosed sufferer of Seasonal Affective Disorder and know I’ve had issues with Vitamin D deficiency in the past I have taken the opportunity to award myself some much needed sunshine therapy this week. Alas, now we are back to the cold & wet climate more typical of this time of year, but the good news is that means that we can move forward with this project. If you aren’t up to speed with previous entries then by all means check them out here, here, & here. After you are all caught up come back and enjoy what’s next with the rest of us.

 

 

 

 

50     Beavis & Butt-Head (Beavis and Butt-Head)

In my final year of college I finally escaped dorm life and got my first ever Bachelor Palace off campus. It just happened to be a few blocks away from our favorite watering hole(s), so oftentimes my buddies would stop by to hang out before we headed to those establishments. It was during this time that MTV premiered a crudely animated sitcom in which two dimwitted delinquents wander around their town causing chaos in between sitting on the couch commenting on music videos (which MTV still aired occasionally at that time). It’s a show with a narrow focus and I assume a very specific target audience, which explains why I wasn’t nearly as interested once I graduated and segued into adult life. However, I have really great (though a bit fuzzy) memories of that year. Some things are special because it is a shared experience, and I am so glad that Beavis & Butt-Head were a memorable part of that era in my life. A feature film was released in 1996 in which the moronic duo go on a quest to find their stolen TV and somehow end up at the White House hanging out with President Clinton. The movie is alright, but not great. A few years ago I got excited when a revival of the show was announced, but I must admit that I never watched the one season return.

 

49     Lenny & Squiggy (Laverne & Shirley)

Speaking of idiots…

Wacky neighbors are a dependable television trope, so while the titular twosome (who had been introduced on Happy Days) were the focus of the show and the ladies swooned over “The Big Ragu” Carmine Ragusa, oftentimes it was Lenny & Squiggy who got the laughs. Lenny Kosnowski & Andrew Squigman live in the apartment above Laverne & Shirley and are truck drivers for the same brewery at which the ladies are bottlecappers. They frequently pop in to annoy the gals, and fancy themselves as tough, cool, desirable 50’s greasers, when in truth they are just a couple of goofballs that don’t appeal to women at all.

 

48     Matt Foley (Saturday Night Live)

It is an inescapable fact that Chris Farley’s weight was used as part of the joke in most everything he did, from SNL to the films in which he appeared. But since Farley himself seemed to be okay with that I suppose no one else should be offended. By far his best SNL contribution was Matt Foley, a raucous motivational speaker who is “35 years old, eating a steady diet of government cheese, thrice divorced, and living in a van down by the river!”. Foley isn’t as much a motivator as a cautionary tale since he is unkempt, belligerent, rude, pessimistic, & apparently a failure, hence the humor, and he usually ended up somehow hilariously crashing thru a piece of furniture. The character was the perfect showcase for Farley’s unique brand of physical comedy, and it is unfortunate that he passed on before Matt Foley could be brought to the big screen.

 

47     Opie Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show)

These days Ron Howard is best known as an award-winning director of films like Apollo 13, Splash, & A Beautiful Mind, and many affectionately recall his role as awkward teenager Richie Cunningham in the retro sitcom Happy Days. However, way back in the 1960’s little Ronny got his start portraying the precocious son of the local sheriff in The Andy Griffith Show. We literally get to watch Opie grow up from an adorable six year old to a young teenager. Father-son interactions provide some of the most uplifting moments on TAGS, but Opie has plenty of entertaining scenes with many other inhabitants of Mayberry as well. Two of my favorite TAGS episodes…Season 3’s Mr. McBeevee and Season 4’s Opie the Birdman…showcase Opie and give an indication of just how great of an actor Ron Howard could have been if that would have been his passion.

 

46         The Riddler (Batman)

Batman is my favorite superhero, and while his comic book origins are indeed dark…an aesthetic that most renditions of the story stick with…one notable exception is the beloved goofy 1960’s TV show. Episodic television allowed a different villain to invade Gotham City each week, including the already established “rogue’s gallery” of Batman baddies as well as some pretty hysterical adversaries created exclusively for the show. I’m a traditionalist, so I prefer the bad guys we all know & love to hate, and my favorite has to be The Riddler. Edward Nygma likes to tease The Caped Crusader with riddles that are clues to his location and/or the crime he is about to commit. Riddler wears a garish green costume peppered with question marks, and has an irritating laugh.

 

45     Balki Bartokomous (Perfect Strangers)

ABC had a penchant in the late 80’s into the 90’s for churning out silly sitcoms that, by any objective measure of quality, shouldn’t have made it more than a season or two, but somehow became cherished by the masses. It is an interesting lesson that modern television executives should learn. Not everyone is on the edge of their seat waiting for the next gritty, studious, sanctimonious, ripped-from-the-headlines show. Sometimes we simply crave pointless escapism that tickles our funny bone. At any rate, Balki is a sheepherder from the Mediterranean island of Mypos. He comes to Chicago to stay with his tightly wound cousin Larry, and boom…you have a fish-out-of-water story that’s also an amusing take on the Odd Couple formula. Balki’s misunderstandings about American culture are comical, as are Larry’s exasperated attempts to clear up any confusion. When anything good happens the two engage in Balki’s Dance of Joy, which kind of looks like something folks do at a Greek wedding.

 

44     Frank Costanza (Seinfeld)

In addition to the hysterical main cast, Seinfeld also had a ton of memorable guest stars and several great recurring characters. Frank is the obnoxious father of George. He is a temperamental traveling salesman best remembered for inventing Festivus, a non-commercial Christmas alternative that features feats of strength & airing of grievances.

 

43     Daisy Duke (The Dukes of Hazzard)

I went thru puberty while The Dukes of Hazzard was on the air, so yes…a sexy woman known for wearing super short jean shorts and who appeared in a skimpy bikini in the show’s opening credits every week for seven years definitely frosted my cupcake. Daisy is a hybrid…part sweet southern belle, part tough as nails tomboy. She is said to “drive like Richard Petty, shoot like Annie Oakley, & know the words to all of Dolly Parton’s songs.” She’s not above using her feminine gifts to distract anyone trying to go after her family, and most often does so with charmingly inept Deputy Enos Strate, who has always had a huge crush on her. In contrast to modern shows in which very little is left to the imagination even on network television, Daisy Duke seems like a quaint reminder of a more innocent time.

 

42     Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, & Sophia (The Golden Girls)

I just can’t choose one. The entire ensemble made The Golden Girls work, and even with two Emmys & three Golden Globes I still think it may have been an underrated program. Dorothy Zbornak is a Brooklyn born teacher who is divorced from philandering Stan. She is smart, acerbic, & perpetually exasperated by her roommates, though she thinks of them as family. Blanche Devereux is a well-to-do southern belle and a widow with a healthy libido. Rose Nyland is a naïve & simpleminded widow who is fond of telling pointless stories about her childhood in St. Olaf, MN. She’s really sweet & trusting, and prone to being taken advantage of by others. Sophia Petrillo is Dorothy’s elderly mother. She is sharp as a tack, fearful that Dorothy will send her back to Shady Pines retirement home, & loves to tell stories from her youth in Sicily, though there is a general vibe that most of those stories are poppycock. As opposed to many shows that tend to feature young & pretty people, The Golden Girls proved that “seasoned citizens” can be a lot of fun.

 

41     Otis Campbell (The Andy Griffith Show)

I love any episode of TAGS in which town drunk Otis appears. I suppose nowadays some people would get their knickers twisted about alcoholism being treated as a joke, but thankfully folks were much less politically correct back in the 60’s. Otis actually has a job & a wife, but every Saturday night he goes out and gets snockered on hooch, then locks himself up in the Mayberry jail. Did you know that Hal Smith…the actor who portrays Otis…was a well-known voice artist?? He most notably voiced Goofy in several Disney productions, including Mickey’s Christmas Carol.

 

40     President Jed Bartlet (The West Wing)

I’ve often asked myself if I would vote for Jed Bartlet in an election, but there is no conclusive answer because I don’t believe that anyone like him actually exists. He is a man of high ideals but realistic expectations. He is a Nobel Prize winning economist, but despite being brilliant he’s also empathetic & quite funny. President Bartlet…like everyone associated with the show…is a bleeding heart liberal, but somehow all involved are able to make that look like a good thing, which is probably one of the greatest magic tricks anyone has ever performed on television. Martin Sheen might be a crackpot in real life, but credit where credit is due…he is a brilliant actor. The President was originally intended to be a rarely seen supporting character, with plots revolving around various White House staff members. However, that plan quickly changed, which undoubtedly made for a better program.

 

39     Dr. Johnny Fever & Venus Flytrap (WKRP in Cincinnati)

When I was a kid I considered becoming a radio DJ when I grew up. Why?? Well, probably because Johnny Fever & Venus Flytrap made the job seem so cool & fun. Johnny is a laid back pothead & former 60’s hippie whose career in radio had been successful before he fell on hard times. He had considered WKRP to be rock bottom, but when the station’s format changes from easy listening to rock n’ roll he is energized and becomes a very popular morning drive personality. Venus Flytrap (real name: Gordon Sims) is a Vietnam vet who is hired by his pal Andy Travis, WKRP’s new program director. It is Andy who suggests the pseudonym and also advises Sims to dress cool so he’ll act cool. Unlike Johnny, whose on-air persona is hyper & wild, Venus is tranquil & chill. He is rather conservative and oftentimes acts as an even-tempered voice of reason. These two dudes made being a disc jockey look like an attractive career option to a young boy in grade school back in the day, and it wasn’t until many years later that I learned that it’s actually a really low-paying & unstable gig.

 

38     Norm Peterson (Cheers)

Cheers is the bar where everybody knows your name, and that’s especially true of Norm, who is enthusiastically greeted by the crowd every time he walks thru the door. Norm is an accountant who frequently seems to be between jobs, so he ends up spending a lot of time sitting at the end of the bar drinking beer. He is married to Vera, who we never meet in eleven seasons. Norm doesn’t seem to be particularly unhappy or disdainful of Vera, but neither is he ever in a rush to go home. It’s pretty funny that in an entire decade of watching the guy do virtually nothing except drink beer we never see him even remotely intoxicated, and his huge unpaid bar tab is occasionally the subject of mockery.

 

37     Wayne & Garth (Saturday Night Live)

Party on!! Wayne Campbell & Garth Algar are the hosts of a public access TV show emanating from Wayne’s basement. They are two nerdy juveniles who think they’re cooler than they are because they like heavy metal music & hot women. The sketches introduced a ton of catchphrases that many of a certain age still utilize with some frequency, such as “Schwing!”, “That’s what she said”, “Not!”, “hurl” & “spew”, “Are you mental?”, and “We’re not worthy!”. In 1992 the duo took their act to the big screen in a surprisingly solid film that did well enough to get a sequel just a year & a half later.

 

36     Linus Van Pelt (Peanuts)

Peanuts is interesting. It never spawned a regular comic book or TV show, and creator Charles Shultz was content to simply produce his comic strip for a half century. However, he did allow the characters to be marketed, which resulted in a ton of merchandise that’s still being churned out nearly two decades after Schultz’s death. As I did when writing about my favorite cartoons I am taking advantage of a loophole of sorts in the fact that there have been a plethora of Peanuts animated television specials over the years, a couple of which many of us grew up watching and continue to enjoy annually. Linus is the youngest of the group, a blanket toting, thumb sucking boy who tends to be the most solicitous & sensible out of any of his friends. He’s a great listener and always gives good advice, although his self-absorbed pals continue to overlook & disrespect his insight.

 

35     Captain Hawkeye Pierce (MASH)

Dr. Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce is the 4077th’s chief surgeon, a New England bred prankster who deals with the daily grind of being in a warzone by drinking copious amounts of martinis and flirting with every female in camp. He resents being drafted and definitely doesn’t conform to the Army way of life. Despite his irreverence it is Hawkeye that provides many of the series’ more somber moments after it segued into more of a dramedy during the second half of its run. In the series finale he suffers a breakdown and returns home to be a local country doctor after the war ends.

 

34     Bo & Luke Duke (The Dukes of Hazzard)

The show’s theme song describes them as good ol’ boys that never mean any harm. Luke is the older cousin and is shown to be smarter & more level-headed. He’s a former Marine. Bo is the younger, more vain & flirtatious pretty boy. He almost always drives the General Lee. The Duke Boys are on probation after being caught unlawfully transporting moonshine, and aren’t legally allowed to own firearms or leave the county, although they frequently do so anyway. They are constant targets of law enforcement, and regularly foil Boss Hogg’s shady schemes.

 

33     Dr. Heathcliff & Claire Huxtable (The Cosby Show)

While characters like Fred Sanford, JJ “Dynomite!” Evans, Arnold Jackson, & “Rerun” Stubbs are all entertaining on various levels, I don’t think there’s any way they could be held up as role models. Conversely, The Huxtables are undeniably so. Mom is a perceptive & resolute attorney, while Dad is a fun-loving & considerate physician. Both are educated and have high expectations for their five children. They are strict yet devoted parents, and their marriage is strong. They are affluent but not extravagant, and seem to have solid moral certitude. In other words, Cliff & Claire represent the vast majority of Americans, the sort of stable citizens & contributors to society that are often disregarded & ridiculed by the media & pop culture. The Cosby Show was popular and critically acclaimed, so I’m not sure why the formula hasn’t been duplicated a thousand times over. Of course I suppose any attempt to copy it would just be a poor imitation.

 

32     Fred Flintstone (The Flintstones)

Yabba dabba doo!! The Flintstones is a sneaky show. What do I mean by that?? Well, we tend to focus on the fact that it is animated, and that it is set in The Stone Age (the rock puns are always a treat). However, the truth is that it is simply a traditional sitcom about an average nuclear family and their friendly neighbors. Fred is an overbearing yet kindhearted crane operator. He’s short-tempered & irritable, but he’s devoted to his family & friends. He enjoys bowling, golf, & hanging out at the Loyal Order of Water Buffalos Lodge. When I was a kid I honestly thought that actor Jackie Gleason provided Fred’s voice, but I was wrong…sort of. Gleason may not have been directly involved with The Flintstones, but his Ralph Kramden character from 1950’s sitcom The Honeymooners heavily influenced how Fred was portrayed.

 

31     Dr. Niles Crane (Frasier)

Niles is the neurotic & effete younger brother of the show’s eponymous radio show host. Like his big brother Niles is also a psychiatrist. He’s the kind of pretentious nerd who loves opera, expensive wine, classical music, French food, & theater but knows absolutely zero about sports or pop culture. Niles is definitely a hypochondriac & a bit OCD, and tends to be overzealous in attempts to ingratiate himself into the perceived proper social circles. When we first meet Niles he is married to Maris, who we never see (much like Vera in Cheers), but his descriptions of her are horribly hysterical. They eventually divorce and he ends up marrying his father’s caregiver Daphne, who he’d been infatuated with since the day they met. I absolutely love Niles, and would have really enjoyed a Niles & Daphne spinoff, but sadly that never happened.

 

30     Sheriff Andy Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show)

Andy Griffith was a brilliant actor. Take some time to watch the 1958 film No Time for Sergeants, in which he plays country bumpkin Will Stockdale, who hilariously clashes with his superiors when he is drafted into the Air Force (sounds like a great idea for a sitcom). After that watch 1957’s A Face in the Crowd, in which Griffith portrays drifter Lonesome Rhodes, who turns a random appearance on a radio show into fame & fortune on television then becomes an egotistical bully before his star falls as quickly as it rose. Griffith based Sheriff Taylor largely on Will Stockdale, atleast initially. After the first season of TAGS he figured out that other characters in Mayberry should be the source of humor while he played the bemused straight man, and so he toned down the hillbilly simpleton persona considerably. Sheriff Taylor is the kind of lawman we’d all love to encounter but probably doesn’t exist in reality…not anymore anyway. He doesn’t even carry a gun!! He’s a good friend, a pleasant neighbor, and the type of father all men should aspire to be. Check out the Season 1 episode A Feud is a Feud in which Andy explains Romeo & Juliet to Opie, or the Season 3 episode Andy Discovers America, in which he gives a unique history lesson to a group of boys. Andy is constantly doing everything he can to boost his deputy’s fragile ego, and is usually the voice of reason in the midst of idiocy. In the last few seasons Sheriff Taylor becomes a little too serious, frequently becoming aggravated by the antics of others, which is just one of the reasons that the first five years of TAGS are the best.

 

29     Kermit the Frog (The Muppet Show)   

When The Muppets won the Sammy Award for Favorite Movie in 2011 I said that “Honestly, toward the end when Kermit breaks out into Rainbow Connection I became so swelled with happiness & emotion that if I could have jumped out of my wheelchair and given a standing ovation I swear to God I would have”. It was in that moment that I realized just what kind of impact The Muppets had on my childhood. In his other popular song It’s Not Easy Being Green Kermit laments that “it seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things, and people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky”, which I have always taken as a perceptive nod to the marginalized in society who often feel ignored, disrespected, & taken for granted. I bet you didn’t realize Kermit was so profound.

 

28     Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

There are only two starship captains in the Trek universe that matter. Captain Picard is an alleged Frenchman with singularly British proclivities (“Tea! Earl Grey! Hot!). He is cultured, judicious, & somewhat aloof, though he does care deeply for his crew. He prefers diplomacy over battle, but ultimately does what needs to be done. He is fascinated with archaeology, enjoys fencing, is quite knowledgeable about physics & literature, and loves horses. Captain Picard is a true Renaissance man, even though he was born about 600 years after that period ended.

 

27         Stefano DiMera (Days of Our Lives)

I’ve been watching DOOL since I was about ten years old, and during that time no supervillain in any entertainment genre has been as evil as Stefano DiMera. He came to Salem in 1982 professing to simply be a European business tycoon, but it soon became apparent that he was more of a crime boss. Stefano has a longstanding vendetta against the blue collar Brady family and makes their lives a living hell for the biggest part of three decades. He dies about a dozen times, but is inevitably revealed to be alive, which explains why he calls himself The Phoenix. The actor who portrayed Stefano actually did pass away a few years ago, but the way the storyline was constructed on the show left things open ended, as though The Phoenix could rise again someday.

 

26     Charlie Brown (Peanuts)

Charlie Brown is essentially the animated personification of his creator Charles Shultz. He is the classic loveable loser, always being insulted & ignored by his friends. He’s a shy & mild-mannered kid with a bundle of neuroses bubbling up inside. But as unsuccessful as he tends to be Charlie Brown rarely gives up. He may not be confident about the result (with good reason), but he keeps trying. In the underrated 2006 sequel Rocky Balboa the aging boxer tells his son that “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.” That’s a great lesson for all of us, and Charlie Brown embodies exactly that attitude.

 

 

 

Okay ladies & gentlemen…let’s take another break. We’ll return for the exciting conclusion in a couple of days.

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.

Superfluous 7 – Best & Worst TV Spinoffs

TVThe television landscape is littered with spinoffs/sequels/continuations/reboots both good & bad…mostly bad. Logically one can conclude that any series worthy of a spinoff must be pretty good itself, which right away means the new show has high standards that it must live up to, something that oftentimes proves to be difficult. The spinoff needs to provide viewers with a sense of comfort & familiarity while at the same time standing on its own as a fresh and different entity from the original. It’s tricky and usually doesn’t work. However, there have been a handful of notable spinoffs that have achieved a certain amount of success. Sometimes folks forget that a show is even a spinoff, and on rare occasions the spinoff equals or even outshines its parent show.


We are going to try something a bit different with this installment of Superfluous 7. For each slot I have listed a good & bad…a yin & yang…a hero & villain. It’s a TV2twofer, a BOGO, a double feature!! But first let me offer a few qualifiers. In all cases I am familiar…on some level…with both the parent series and its spinoff. Y’all know that I love, love, love The Andy Griffith Show, and I am well aware that it is a spinoff of The Danny Thomas Show (aka Make Room for Daddy). However, the only episode of the original show I’ve ever seen is the one that was a “backdoor pilot” for TAGS (you can find it on YouTube) so that particular spinoff doesn’t make this list. Ditto for Happy Days, which was a spinoff of Love American Style, a show I’ve never seen. I am also aware of the plethora of spinoffs of shows like CSI, Law & Order, & NCIS, but since I don’t watch those shows nor their “offspring” you won’t find them here. They just aren’t my cup o’ tea. Your mileage may vary and that’s okay. Something else you won’t see here…reality shows. I know that The Bachelorette is a spinoff of The Bachelor, but since I am of the opinion that such programs are contributing to the decay of society they aren’t worth the time & energy to even talk about. Also let me take this opportunity to say that narrowing this list down was harder than I expected. There are shows that I rather enjoy like Mama’s Family (a spinoff of The Carol Burnett Show), Trapper John M.D. (from MASH), Mork & Mindy (one of a few spinoffs from Happy Days), Benson (a spinoff of Soap), Family Matters (a spinoff of Perfect Strangers), and The Simpsons (spun off from something called The Tracey Ullman Show) that just didn’t make the cut. There are others, such as That 80’s Show (a follow-up to…of course…That 70’s Show), Just the Ten of Us (a spinoff of Growing Pains), Flo (a spinoff of Alice), and Living Dolls (a spinoff of Who’s the Boss? notable for kicking off the careers of Halle Berry & Leah Remini) so inconsequential that I’m surprised I remember them at all. At any rate, without further ado, The Manofesto ambitiously presents…..

 

 

 

from the home office in Mount Airy, NC…..

 

 

 

The Superfluous 7 Best & Worst TV Spinoffs:

 

 

 

7 Best – The Facts of Life      Worst – Three’s A Crowd
facts_of_lifeIn the middle of the second season of Diff’rent Strokes housekeeper Edna Garrett leaves the Drummonds to become the housemother at a private girls’ school in upstate New York. And so The Facts of Life was born. At first we were shown the lives of a large group of 3crowdstudents at Eastland Academy (including a very young Molly Ringwald), but eventually the show focused on just four: rich girl Blair, tough girl Jo, funny girl Natalie, & Tootie, who spent most of the first season on roller skates. Facts was one of those sitcoms that didn’t shy away from heavier topics & issues that a typical teenager might face. It was also a very adaptable show, going with the flow of cast changes and realistically putting the four girls in different settings as they grew up. The show was never a ratings juggernaut but quietly stuck around for 9 solid seasons. More than 25 years after it left the air I can still sing (badly) the theme song. On the flip side we have what was intended to be a continuation of Three’s Company. Crowd had Jack Tripper settling down with a lovely stewardess and their relationship being constantly meddled in by her father. Not even the comedic brilliance of John Ritter could save Three’s A Crowd though. It wasn’t all that funny and the cast just never seemed to gel in the way that its predecessor’s had. Three’s A Crowd lasted just one season.

 

 

6 Best – Knots Landing      Worst – Joanie Loves Chachi
knotsPrime time soap operas were a big thing in the 80’s & 90’s. Dallas and Dynasty were the kings of the genre and forerunners tochachi shows like Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, & Desperate Housewives. During the third season of Dallas Jock & Miss Ellie’s middle son Gary Ewing & his estranged wife Val (parents of Lucy Ewing Cooper) reunite and move to a cul-de-sac in California. Friendships, rivalries, business deals, & love affairs amongst the various neighbors were the basis of Knots, which was more grounded & realistic than its parent show but just as soapy. It lasted an astonishing 14 years and survived a plethora of cast changes as well as all manner of ratings competition. Conversely, Joanie Loves Chachi did not last anywhere near as long. The idea was that the Happy Days lovebirds relocate to Chicago to pursue a music career. But without Ritchie, Fonzie, Potsie, and Mr. & Mrs. C the twosome just weren’t all that interesting. The show was cancelled after two years and Joanie & Chachi made their way back to Milwaukee for Happy Days’ final season.

 

 

5 Best – Gomer Pyle, USMC      Worst – The Golden Palace
gomerI was fortunate enough to grow up in the 70’s & 80’s when syndicated reruns of popular shows from the 60’s like The Beverly palaceHillbillies, Hogan’s Heroes, The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, The Munsters, Batman, The Addams Family, & Bewitched were shown on television a lot. Thank God I was provided the opportunity to appreciate such classic programs that had originally aired long before I was born. One of those shows was a fish-out-of-water spinoff of The Andy Griffith Show that saw dimwitted but good-natured mechanic Gomer Pyle leave Mayberry and enlist in the Marines. Gomer’s contentious relationship with drill instructor Sgt. Carter was hilarious and his penchant for inadvertently screwing up drove many of the plots. NBC’s The Golden Palace was, much like Three’s A Crowd, a failed money driven attempt at prolonging a show that had run its course. When Bea Arthur decided that she wanted to leave The Golden Girls after its seventh season the powers-that-be simply had Blanche, Sophia, & Rose buy a Miami hotel and build a show around their interactions with the establishment’s staff & guests. Not the worst idea in the world I suppose, but it’s hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice and the concept just didn’t work. The Golden Palace was cancelled after one season but is notable for being one of the early entries on the resume of actor Don Cheadle. The Golden Girls did launch a more successful spinoff called Empty Nest about a doctor and his two grown daughters.

 

 

4 Best – Laverne & Shirley     Worst – Saved by the Bell: The College Years
lsJoanie Loves Chachi may have been a bust, but Happy Days did have two successful spinoffs. I liked Mork & Mindy and became a huge Robin Williams fan, but it just doesn’t quite make the cut for our current purposes. However, Laverne & Shirley most Saved-Bell-College_400definitely deserves a spot. It retained the 1950’s Milwaukee setting of its parent show but otherwise stood out on its own merits. The supporting cast (Lenny & Squiggy, “The Big Ragu” Carmine Ragusa, Laverne’s father Phil & his gal pal Edna) was solid. Laverne & Shirley isn’t one of the greatest shows in the history of television and it kind of limped to a finish in its final two years (the entire cast inexplicably relocated to California together…as if that is realistic…and Cindy Williams, aka Shirley, isn’t even around during the last season), but amongst spinoffs it has to be considered a tremendous success. The prime time spinoff of Saturday morning staple Saved by the Bell, on the other hand, can’t be called successful by any metric one could possibly use. Now let’s be honest…the original show wasn’t a high water mark of artistry or excellence. But for what it was…a Saturday morning show meant to appeal to teenagers…it did the trick. The problem with shows set in high school (besides the fact that the powers-that-be always seem to cast 25 year olds to portray characters that are supposed to be a decade younger) is the fact that they should realistically only last 4 years. What to do with a successful (i.e. profitable) show after that?? Follow the kids to college of course!! It’s been done multiple times and almost always bombs. In this case only half the cast moved on to the spinoff and characters were added (most notably a dorm advisor played by former NFL player Bob Golic) that just didn’t pan out. The other issue was that for some odd reason The College Years aired in primetime instead of Saturday morning. Big mistake. The show only lasted one season. I should mention that I didn’t forget about Saved by the Bell: The New Class (although I wish I could) but chose to aim my scorn & derision at The College Years if only because the original cast should have known better.

 

 

3 Best – The Jeffersons      Worst – Mayberry RFD
jeffersons-castI am a little too young to remember the sociopolitical climate of the mid-1970’s, but I do remember that at the time black folks were still being portrayed in pop culture as poor, uneducated, & usually living in the ghetto. Shows like Good Times, Sanford & Son, & What’s Happening! all seemed to…unintentionally…perpetuate a stereotype that African-Americans (a term I don’t particularly rfdlike…we are all Americans) are doomed to a struggling blue collar existence in “the projects”. Diff’rent Strokes was about two orphaned boys that only make it out of Harlem because a rich white man adopts them. Even Saturday morning cartoon Fat Albert had the kids hanging out in an inner city junkyard. But George & Weezie Jefferson were different. George owned a chain of dry cleaning stores. They lived “in a deluxe apartment in the sky” (after they’d moved from Queens where they were neighbors of Archie Bunker and thusly spun off from All in the Family). They had a maid and a doorman. The Jeffersons showed that The American Dream is accessible to everyone. It is a formula that was later followed by shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, and especially The Cosby Show. On the other side of the coin we have Mayberry RFD, a show still set in Mayberry but missing key elements like Sheriff Andy, Barney Fife, and little Opie. To be fair many of the supporting characters from TAGS were a part of the spinoff. Aunt Bea, Goober, Howard Sprague, & Clara Edwards were all in the cast. However, Ken Berry (who would go on to play the hilariously dimwitted Vinton on Mama’s Family in the 80’s) as farmer & town councilman Sam Jones was a poor substitute for Andy Griffith. Mayberry RFD…in my opinion…didn’t differentiate itself enough from its parent show and instead was a watered down copycat. The show had solid ratings but was cancelled after three seasons as CBS tried to overhaul its image and distance themselves from rural themed shows like Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, & Hee Haw.

 

 

2 Best – Star Trek: The Next Generation     Worst – The Love Boat: The Next Wave
TNGOftentimes spinoffs have a “backdoor pilot” within the parent series and usually run either concurrently or immediately following the demise of the original. TNG is odd in that it premiered nearly two decades after the cancellation of TOS. What the two shows…set a century apart…have in common are the starship Enterprise and really cool tales of space exploration and adventure. TNG gets the formula exactly right. There is a certain amount of familiarity that makes the viewer feel as if we are revisiting an old friend, but the characters are not at all carbon copies of their predecessors. Captains Kirk and Picard couldn’t be more different. Doctors McCoy and Crusher are nothing alike. Engineers Scotty and Geordi LaForge?? No. Spock & Data?? Well…maybe just a little bit but not really. As a trifling Trekkie I must say that the TOS movie franchise was far superior to the tepid TNG films, but as far as the TV shows go the spinoff gives the original a real run for its money. I didn’t really follow any of the other Trek shows that came after, but I loved The Next Generation. Conversely, I, like the majority of the population, barely recall that The Love Boat had a spinoff. The Love Boat was a product of its time. It’s not going to rank anywhere near the best television shows, but as Saturday night comfort food in the 1980’s it boatworked well enough to last a decade. But the spinoff had a few issues that it couldn’t overcome. First off it debuted over a decade after the original bid us a fond bon voyage. That kind of delay may have worked for Star Trek: TNG but that is the exception to the rule. Secondly The Next Wave aired on UPN, a network that only lasted a decade (in comparison to CBS, ABC, & NBC that have all been around since the dawn of television), never offered a full prime time schedule, and only had mild hits including forgettable shows like Moesha and Veronica Mars. Now I’m not saying that The Next Wave would have been successful on a real network, but it never had a chance on UPN. And much like Mayberry RFD the spinoff tried too hard to be exactly like the original only with actors and characters that couldn’t hold a candle to their predecessors. The concept…perfectly acceptable in the 80’s…was far too trite for the edgier 1990’s. The Next Wave lasted two seasons only because UPN had no better options.

 

 

1 Best – Frasier     Worst – AfterMASH
frasierThere are many people that are of the opinion that Frasier actually outdid its parent show Cheers. That’s a fun little debate, but amongst spinoffs Frasier stands alone. Rather than try to replicate its predecessor the show took the titular character of Dr. Frasier Crane and transplanted him to a completely new setting and surrounded him with a whole new cast of supporting players that weren’t anything like the bar crowd on Cheers. Dr. Crane himself developed quite nicely as a character without undergoing any drastic changes from what we knew of him as a recurring bit player on the original show. About the only thing the two shows have in common is the superb writing that made me fall in love with both. Frasier is such a good show that it probably would have found an audience and been a ratings success on its own merits, but having a built-in audience of faithful Cheers viewers certainly helped it get off on the right foot though. However the tone of the two shows are so vastly different that I’d be willing to bet that there were a decent amount of Cheers fans that tuned out after realizing the spinoff wasn’t going to blindly follow the trail blazed by its forerunner. If that’s true then Frasier deserves even more kudos for building an audience and lasting 11 seasons…just as many as Cheers. Now when one considers the success of Frasier then it is fair ponder the question of why AfterMASH was such an epic failure (other than its stupid & uncreative title). Afterall, it tried the same thing…transplanting characters from one show and spinning them off into a show that had a totally different setting & tone. So what was the difference?? Well, for one ting AfterMASH took Col. Potter, Cpl. Klinger, & Father Mulcahy from The Korean War to working together at a aftermashhospital in Missouri. Whereas Frasier relocated one character in a totally logical way (he moved back to his hometown to be near his family) AfterMASH clunkily reunited three characters in a completely unbelievable manner. It just didn’t work. Otherwise there are a lot of possible explanations. If TV industry people knew why some shows failed and some were smash hits they’d run for political office and fix the nation’s more important problems. AfterMASH actually had decent ratings in its inaugural season (I am assuming due to curiosity from loyal MASH fans) but then crashed & burned in its second season in part due to brutal competition from The A-Team. But if that were the only issue they could have just put it in a new time slot. I think people were just over their MASH love and ready to move forward. The writing and storytelling obviously wasn’t compelling enough for folks to stick around, and when those things aren’t good no amount of nostalgia will keep a show alive. Not only is AfterMASH probably the worst spinoff of all time but it is largely remembered as one of the worst television shows in general.