Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Dean's List: My 100 Favorite TV Shows (#100 - 91)

Okay, so here's my first official article for the Nose! And with it, I say "Hello, Nosekateers! Greetings and salutations." And now THAT is behind us, I must confess...

I’m not in the habit of writing about TV. Movies are my thing, really. But so much of television has truly shaped my tastes that it’s hard to ignore its influence.

The greatest thing, as all of you know, about TV shows is their ability to envelope you, week after week, so completely you get to know every tiny detail of the on- and off-air personalities that make it live. And the best narrative TV shows are the ones in which you cannot, absolutely cannot believe that there are actually actors playing these roles. This, too, goes for the variety, news and game show personalities. I mean, if you saw Alex Trebek walking down the street, you’d simply have to drop your jaw because he’d be so out of his element. You’d be, like, “Heyyyy, Potent Potables for 500, Alex!” It's got something to do with watching this stuff in our shorts, eating chili with our fingers—we figure if these guys are with us through those moments, we must be pretty close buds!

My association with Lisa, the one of the mistresses of The Flaming Nose--the world’s finest TV-related website--is a long one. No one loves TV more than Lisa. Years ago, when we worked together at Turner Network Television, I’d be talking about movies
with her and, though she always took my opinions truly to heart, I could tell that, deep in the center of her being, she’d way rather be watching a TV show than any ol’ movie. This mystified me then, but it got me to thinking in the years since we’ve worked together that TV is pretty amazing. Its pacing is exquisite. TV shows are designed to sink their hooks into you, to keep you watching through the commercials or even from show to show, so it therefore has a snappiness, a rhythm and flavor all its own. If the average Joe were shown 30 seconds of a TV show he’d never heard boo about, and then shown a similar 30 second clip of a movie (both with equal production values), I guarantee Joe would be able tell which one belonged to which medium, just because of this intrinsic pacing.

Because of this quality, I’ve found myself in recent years taking more and more refuge in a lot of television. I find I can’t watch an endless array of movies like I used
to, not only because most of them now are terrible or simply boring, and not only because I’ve seen almost everything already, but because I find myself longing for the companionship of characters I get to know intimately, bit by bit, and thoroughly, too. Given this newfound appetite for boob-tubeage, I thought I would, for the first time in my life, compose a list of my 100 favorite TV shows. And I thought I’d offer it to Lisa to publish on The Nose while I stick mostly to film on my own movie-related blog, filmicability. Since the list is so long, only ten entries only will be published at a time (and only two articles a week). And at the end of this five-week series? A television smorgasbord!

One note: Once you peruse these ten articles, don’t come after me with flaming torches (or noses!) for shows I’ve failed to commemorate. Remember: I’m a child of the 60s and 70s so that inevitably affects my choices. The times make the man, not the other way ‘round. So these are not the BEST shows ever, just my favorites. No one can come up with a best-shows-ever list unless it’s done by a massive and well-rounded committee of critics and TV artists, a la the British magazine Sight and Sound’s survey of the 20 best movies ever made (which is composed every second year of each decade, and which I think should be done tout de suite for TV, by the way). So simply read away and contain your anger at my ignorance of some series, or my simple slight or great distaste for them. This list, as are all my writings, is designed mainly to get the reader excited about the medium and only secondarily as a sort of consumer’s guide.

So here we go with the first installment, in descending order from 100 to 91:

100) Space Academy (1977-79) Not an auspicious beginning to the list, I’ll admit. In fact I feel a little guilty about it. But this has placed
merely because it’s a well-produced childhood favorite, nothing more (told ya it was a personal list). Produced by Filmation and shown on CBS in the post-Star Wars era, it was part of an unfailing Saturday morning treat for me—waffles loaded with butter, Pepsi, and Space Academy. Kid heaven. I loved the special effects, the quasi-Lost in Space aspects of its storylines, and its game cast, headed by LIS’s Jonathan Harris and the ever-present Pamelyn Ferdin (she was the strange-voiced little girl on the 1960s Lassie series). While watching this show via its recent DVD release, I got a head rush, it was so nostalgic. It was like finding an unopened pack of Star Wars trading cards or something! With the gum still chewable! Yes, it’s cornball stuff, but I adore it—much more than its companion pieces Jason of Star Command and Ark II.

99) Consumer Reports (1982-85) With what must stand as one of their first original shows, HBO produced this excellent adaptation of the famous magazine back in the early 1980s. Adorned with snazzy-cool 1980s graphics, crackling narration and precise writing, Consumer Reports was a one-of-a-kind series that is now a hysterical retro-phat find!! Check out this one clip we found on You Tube! Love those old electronics!! I wanna see more! Waaaaaah!

98) Match Game (1973-82) CBS’s dirty-minded daytime game show had six 70s-era celebrities all trying to match wits with contestants attempting to complete a vaudeville-style one-liner with a
strategically missing word (or “blank”) in it. You could always bet on Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly and Richard Dawson to be in the “star-studded” lineup, but the other chairs were up for grabs (and the first chair was always reserved for a CBS-connected celeb who didn’t normally do game shows, so you could guarantee that, since they were new to the game, their answers would almost always suck). My favorite part was always the end when a two-word phrase would zing up on screen begging for completion. At this point, you could always count on Richard Dawson to come up with the finest answer. But Reilly was always the most creative (and funny). Kind of a 70s wife-swapping party on stage, the ringmaster was the suggestively-long-microphoned Gene Rayburn.

97) The Rifleman (1958-63) My one nod to the long Western TV era (Gunsmoke is still the longest running narrative TV series at 20 years!) is to ABC’s 60s-era series about sure-shot, single parent rancher Lucas McCain (a tough, chiseled Chuck Connors) trying to help the ineffective marshal (Paul Fix) rid their town of ne’er-do-wells.
I appreciated the relationship between McCain and his son (Johnny Crawford), and I loved the action (Connors could handle a rifle better any anyone), but when I watched this with my dad oh-so-many years ago, I would always wince when Crawford would inevitably whine “Pa! Pa!” This piercing sound drove my mother crazy and sent the neighborhood dogs into a tizzy. Still, a great show, in wonderful silvery black-and-white, with many of its episodes directed by legendary movie directors like Joseph L. Lewis (Gun Crazy), Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch), Ida Lupino, Arthur Hiller (Love Story), Richard Donner (1978's Superman) and Budd Boetticher (The Tall T). Here's a nice fanvid that features the memorable opening and a photo montage set to the jaunty closing theme by Herchel Burke Gilbert.

96) Love, Sidney (1981-83) NBC’s short-lived dramedy, a spin-off of a network TV movie, dealt with the relationship between a gay ad exec (Tony Randall) and the single mother actress with whom he was living (an excellent Swoozie Kurtz). It was oh-so-sweet, sentimental, and extremely well-written and acted which meant, in the early 80s, it didn’t have a prayer ratings-wise. But an influential show in that it sported prime-time TV’s first gay character (though his sexuality was mostly spoken about in hushed tones, if at all).

95) Police Story (1973-77) A hard-bitten NBC crime show about L.A. street cops created by the great crime novelist Joseph Wambaugh
(The Onion Field, The New Centurions). Each week, a freshly-minted set of lawmen would take to the boulevards in an often futile effort to clean up the city. Frank, realistic and violent, it was heavy stuff in the early 70s, and it spawned two more TV shows, Angie Dickinson’s Police Woman and Lloyd Bridges’ Joe Forrester. It was expertly written and directed, with an unusual template—a sort of cop anthology show. My dad, an avid reader, was an Atlanta cop in the 1970s—tough times—and he said it was the best show of its kind ever. So there ya have it.

94) The Dick Cavett Show (1968-72) Cavett was and is always a fascinating TV presence—wiry, sophisticated, witty, and curious. With his first talk show (he’s had
two other separate talk shows since then, one from 1975-82 and one in 1986, which I’m sure are just as fine), he had an ability to attract the most unusual and TV-shy guests (Marlon Brando, Katherine Hepburn, and so on) that was wondrous. But he’d go deeper into subjects like philosophy, economics, and politics like no other talk show host has attempted to do (save for maybe Charlie Rose, whose often pompous style I find only a bit annoying). We’re lucky to have a gaggle of new DVD collections highlighting his efforts for ABC (the Hollywood Legends one is a must). Here's a clip of Cavett talking with the great Alfred Hitchcock about the art of editing, among other things.

93) Primetime Glick (2001-2003) The polar opposite of Cavett is Comedy Central’s riotous spoof talk show featuring Martin Short in incredible porcine makeup as the rotund Jiminy Glick, an obvious send-up of every unprepared, dunderheaded, junket-addicted journalist Short and his Hollywood buddies had ever come up against. Clearly but expertly improvised, the impressive list of guest stars would gamely play along with Short, who’d do anything for a laugh—spit up crème-filled doughnuts, clean his face like a cat, fall spectacularly backwards in
his lounger, or splay himself out in suggestive poses with his guest on the receiving end. One of the funniest TV moments ever occurs in his interview with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, when Glick gets all misty-eyed over his sudden memory of Vivian Vance; Short’s face-contorting performance here will never, ever fail to make me burst out in giggles (“Pull it together boy, pull it together boy…”). Respect also goes out to Michael McKean as Glick’s sunburned, harp-playing bandleader Adrian Van Voorhees, and to Jan Hooks as Jiminy’s long-suffering wife Dixie. Here's a clip with Glick and Steve Martin...

92) CBS News Sunday Morning (1979-present) Nothing goes better with Sunday morning coffee, bagels and strawberries like the late Charles Kurault’s expertly-produced newsmagazine, a television institution that’s undoubtedly the most relaxing, informed, and positive thing on TV today (it's now hosted by Charles Osgood). Nowhere else will you see stories on pianist Martha Augerich, painter Jasper Johns, or the Italian parliament. I love its quiet, birds-chirping-in-th-background quality. It knows it's smart, so why yell about it?

91) The Rudy and GoGo World Famous Cartoon Show (1995-97) Surely the most obscure entry on my list is also a highly personal one. Lisa Mateas and Phil Oppenheim, my former bosses at TNT, lovingly
nursed this crazy compendium of old cartoons built around the surrealistic world of a hip, Howdy Doody-inspired puppet named Rudy and his pet goat GoGo. The show was a textbook example of a "minor cult hit," though it deserves to be collected on DVD! Created by the inspired producing team of Barry Mills and now-novelist Jack Pendarvis, it’s a baby precursor to the Cartoon Network monster now known as Adult Swim, but it was a thousand times better ‘cause it had heart. And brains. Any show that would put a hapless goat up to a presidential race and feature The Mekons and The Roots as guests has my vote (goat).


Jane said...

Welcome to The Flaming Nose, Dean! I love that you will have a regular weekly feature. To your bottom ten of 100 I say: Yes! to Glick, who I have always loved and double yes to Dick Cavett (have a boxed DVD set of his comedy guests that includes Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope...in a word...surreal) and triple yes to The Match Game which I have enjoyed on the Game Show Channel. More lovely than the neon day-glo sets, the wide lapels, the phallic microphone, the nasty, nasty double entendres...I just adored Charles Nelson Reilly. He was a gem and I think we lost him this past year too.
Bravo Dean...can't wait for the rest!

Lisa said...

Beautiful list, Dean! Can't wait for the rest, and there's a lot to go! It's pure suspense! Your choices -- and reasons why -- are eclectic, amusing and heartfelt!

Love this and am hooked! And welcome to the Nose!

Hepcat B said...

Cool choices. Space Academy was all but deleted from memory, but those special effects shots bring it right back, probably because each was used at least 5 times per episode!

Another talk host I'd put up there in depth with Cavett and Rose (whose recent Ted Turner interview was riveting) is Bob Costas. All the more amazing because he is so sports-centric. He is among the few who can make all that crap seem meaningful for a while, which would be impossible if he weren't also well rounded in his knowledge of politics, history, art, etc.