Top ten television comedies

O.K., since almost everyone in my blogging universe has tackled this, it’s (past) time for my 10 favorite sit-coms. My rule: I’m not picking anything still on the air. That means no Scrubs, no Simpsons.

10. Sports Night: watched religiously. Would have ranked higher if it could have stuck around a little longer.

9. All in the Family: groundbreaking stuff. But it went on too long, as Logan noted.
8. Frasier: erudite humor mixed with occasional madcap fun. (Miles ironing his pants is one of the great pieces of TV, all sans dialogue.)

7. Barney Miller: the first year, they tried for Barney to have a home life, complete with a wife (Barbara Barrie), but it never jelled. After that, it found its own voice. I never was a big Fish fan (BTW, to the best of my knowledge, Abe Vigoda is still alive,) but it was the guest stars and their reaction to the cops that really worked for me.

6. Taxi: Reverend Jim was my favorite character, but it was a great ensemble, with Judd Hirsch’s Alex holding the center.

5. WKRP in Cincinnati – is this show as funny as I remember? As much as I appreciated Venus Flytrap and Johnny Fever, and, O.K., Bailey Quarters, my great appreciation was for Les Nessman, he of the imaginary walls and flying turkeys. If the rights to the great music originally associated with this show could somehow find clearance, I’d buy the season DVDs in a minute.

4. Cheers – I wasn’t quite as fond of it after Diane left, but I warmed up to Rebecca in time.

3. M*A*S*H – probably would have ranked higher, maybe even #1, if it had gone when Radar did. I watched those first seven or eight seasons even in reruns, but not the last three or four, which start repeating itself. B.J. falling off the fidelity wagon – touching. B.J. THINKING about falling off the fidelity wagon a few seasons later – boring.

2. The Mary Tyler Moore Show – it wasn’t Mary so much as Lou “I hate spunk” Grant, Murray’s savaging Ted Baxter (often without Ted knowing), full-of-moxie Rhoda, and the sweet-seeming yet savage Sue Ann Nivens, played by Betty White.

1. The Dick van Dyke Show. This is why the show is the gold standard: it lasted five years, not too short, not too long. It had a near perfect mix of work life and home life. It had Richard Deacon of Binghamton, NY, my hometown, as Mel Cooley. It had the superb Carl Reiner, the original choice for Rob, BTW, as the egotistical Alan Brady. It has segments I haven’t seen in decades I still can remember, such as son Richie’s middle name: Robert Oscar Sam Edward Benjamin Ulysses David, or ROSEBUD. It had an ottoman in the opening, which Rob either trips over or dances deftly around. And it had Mary Tyler Moore in capri pants.

Just missing the cut:

The Andy Griffith Show: Another show that went on too long. The first five years with Andy and Don Knotts as Deputy Fife were quite great. Strangely, broadcasting in color also hurt its appeal of the small town quality of Mayberry.

Seinfeld: I really liked this show early on, when REALLY was about nothing (getting lost in the parking garage, e.g.) Of course, it had classic episodes such as “The Contest.” Elaine’s bad dancing, Kramer’s entrances. But there was a point when I started finding it tiresome (the glee at Susan’s death, the whole NY Yankees thing).

The Bob Newhart Show: This is the one with Bob as the shrink, as opposed to Newhart, which was Bob as the Vermont innkeeper. The earlier show won out because of the better supporting cast (I found Julia Duffy’s character often shrill). Bob’s particular way of playing off people is a rare gift. Of course his latter show has the best TV ending ever, but it was inspired by the earlier show, and by Bobby in the shower on Dallas.

Arrested Development: I didn’t start watching it from the beginning. Actually, I tried and didn’t particularly enjoyed it. Then I tried again at the beginning of the second season and it clicked for me.

I Love Lucy: Probably saw it TOO often in my youth.

Soap: over the top zaniness. I loved the dummy.

Friends: it was rather uneven over the years, and there were periods I just gave up on it, only to be drawn back.

The Associates: a very funny comedy with Martin Short that was on for too short a time.

Almost anything with Dabney Coleman.

Any number of shows I’m probably just forgetting.
Daniel Schorr, who covered Watergate for CBS News, and delivered a eulogy at Frank Zappa’s funeral, turns 90 today. One of my media heroes, he is still a working journalist for NPR.

Xena and her friends

I was excited and fascinated by the possibility that we might have had three new planets.

When my sisters were old enough to share a room, my father built a couple walls out of the hallway which became my bedroom, of sorts. To compensate for that tiny space, he agreed to paint, right on the ceiling, whatever I wanted. What I wanted was the solar system. The sun was the size of a large beach ball, and the other planets were done to scale. I used to “look at” this part of the galaxy every night before I went to bed for about ten years, until I went to college, and then my parents subsequently bought another house.

The initial changes that were proposed for the solar system didn’t bother me at all. Many things that I “knew” as a child have been altered with new discoveries.

The proposed definition: A planet is a celestial body that (a) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (b) is in orbit around a star, and is neither a star nor a satellite of a planet.

What I Knew/What I Know Now
Mercury – had 0 moons/still has 0 moons
Venus – had 0 moons/still have 0 moons
Earth – had 1 moon/has 1 moon
Mars – had 2 moons/has 2 moons
Jupiter-had 12 moons/has 61 moons
Saturn-had 9 moons/has 31 moons
Uranus-had 5 moons/has 21 moons
Neptune-had 2 moons/has 11 moons

Yet, I do have some disappointment. Ceres, under consideration as a planet, continues to be cosmic debris in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The recently found 2003 UB313, which the discover, Caltech researcher Mike Brown, has dubbed Xena (yes, after the warrior princess) remains just some other heavenly body.

And Pluto, dear Pluto, once a real live planet is now – well read this:
“The [proposed but rejected] definition entirely misses the key element of a solar system object, namely its role in the formation of the solar system,” David Charbonneau, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said. “There are eight fully formed planets. The other objects – Ceres, Pluto, Charon [Pluto’s moon], [Xena], and hundreds of thousands of others, are the fascinating byproducts of the formation of these eight planets.” Thus, Pluto, controversial since its discovery in 1930, had its planetary status on the table again, and lost it. Pluto is merely a “fascinating byproduct”.

I suppose it’s for the best. There would have been at least 53 planets, by Mike Brown’s count, had the newdefinitionn taken hold. Imagine the learning curve in school textbooks if THAT hadoccurredd. It’ll still be complicated.

But think of all the ruined mnemonic devices:
My very exciting mother just served us nine pizzas
My Very Easy Memory Jingle Seems Useful Naming Planets
My Very Energetic Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pickles
Men Very Easily Make Jugs Serve Useful Nocturnal Purposes
My Very Elegant Mother Just Sat Upon Nine Porcupines
My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Peas
Mark’s violet eyes make Jane sit up nights pining

Actually, the last one can still work. No pining, though.
Chris Black on Pluto (August 26)
My sincere condolences to my cyberbuddy, near-twin Gordon on the passing of his father this week. My thoughts and prayers are with you, Gordon.

This Will Be The Last Time

I tend not to be the jealous kind. We all have our different experiences that enrich our lives.

Still, there’s a woman in my office that I’m at least mildly jealous of. She got to see the Beatles LIVE. She got tickets through a local Catholic church group, and went with her friend, with their mothers as chaperones, on a bus to Atlantic City on August 30, 1964. Check those ticket prices!

From Jackie DeShannon’s website:
BEATLES FIRST AMERICAN TOUR (August 19 – September 20, 1964)

This was the first real Beatles concert tour of America. Consisting of 32 shows in 34 days, The Beatles wound up breaking attendance records as they appeared at major arenas throughout the U.S. and Canada. On the bill with The Beatles was the Bill Black Combo, the Righteous Brothers (backed by The Exciters), and Jackie DeShannon.

The Beatles song list for this 1964 tour:
Twist and Shout**
You Can’t Do That
All My Loving
She Loves You**
Things We Said Today
Roll Over Beethoven
Can’t Buy Me Love
If I Fell
I Want To Hold Your Hand
A Hard Day’s Night
Long Tall Sally
(**-For some shows, The Beatles would open with I Saw Her Standing There, delete She Loves You, and close with Twist And Shout).

August 30: Convention Hall Atlantic City, New Jersey: Three days after the Democratic National Convention was held here, The Beatles played one concert here. Over 19,000 Beatles fans attended the concert which started at 8:30 p.m. After the show, the Beatles left the hall in a laundry truck, as leaving by limousine would have been impossible.

Sure, the Beatles were far away and difficult to hear over the screams, but still…

What put me in mind about that is the fact that TODAY is the 40th anniversary of the Beatles’ gig at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, which turned out to be their last concert performance. The opening act line-up included The Remains, Bobby Hebb, The Cyrkle and The Ronettes, without Ronnie Spector. The set list was:
Rock and Roll Music
She’s A Woman
If I Needed Someone
Day Tripper
Baby’s In Black
I Feel Fine
I Wanna Be Your Man
Nowhere Man
Paperback Writer
Long Tall Sally

And, of course, after that concert, they were pretty much finished as musicians.

The Fantasy Company

I recently spent $12.95 for Comics Journal #277, the 30th anniversary issue, initially because an old FantaCo bud, Tom the Mayor (not to be confused with Tom, the owner) sent me this e-mail:
I do not know if you keep in touch with the comic biz, but in the latest issue of “The Comics Journal”, they have an article on the black and white comics boom of the 1980’s, and they show the cover to “Sold Out” #1, where a character named Roger Green is hunted down by the color police. Poor fellow is probably still in the color concentration camp. Wasn’t Steve McQueen in the “Great Escape”, based on that Green Fellow?

Gee, I co-wrote that story, yet I don’t remember THAT aspect of the plot, but it HAS been 20 years. The artist, BTW, was John Hebert, not John Herbert, as indicated in TCJ.

As it turns out, there are other very interesting things in the magazine, including a piece on the late direct comics distribution guru Phil Seuling that will be VERY useful in the future.

Then, last week, I had breakfast one morning with Mitch Cohn. I worked with Mitch at FantaCo from 1980 until 1983 – he started there a year earlier – and later worked for him at his Midnight Comics store in Albany in the early 1990s. For FantaCo, Mitch edited the excellent Deja Vu and Gates of Eden as well as the Chronicles magazines dealing with Daredevil and the Avengers. (I did the ones for X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man.)

Mitch is a middle school English teacher in New York City, and he looks remarkable similar to the guy I last saw about a decade ago. He was in town visiting folks, including our old FantaCo colleague Rocco. Right after I saw Mitch, I happened to walk past 21 Central Avenue, which had been a music store, a couple other things, then some sort of religious center after FantaCo, but had been most recently boarded up. The boards were down, the door was open, and it appears that some new retailer was cleaning up the place in anticipation of yet another venture.

So, it’s been a FantaCo kind of week. FantaCo was started on August 28, 1978, and closed 20 years later, but given the fact that I worked there for 8.5 years, it remains in the DNA.

Please Come to Boston

This post was inspired by GP’s Boston glasses.

My now ex, Zoe, and I were in Boston on Flag Day, 1991, when, pretty much at the last minute, around 5:30 p.m., we decided to go to Fenway Park and see if we could score a couple tickets to the game starting about an hour and a half later. We held little hope, for the game featured the pitching duel of Red Sox’s ace Roger Clemens (whatever happened to him?) and the California Angels’ one-handed wonder Jim Abbott. Surprisingly, not only did we get seats, we got GREAT seats right behind home plate. I’m thinking that someone must have turned in tickets at the last moment.

What I remember about the game is that California was ahead early, Clemens spent too much time keeping Dave Winfield on first base, and that the Red Sox came back to win. The box score of the game is here.

Afterwards, we went to the Howard Johnson nearby, where we stayed. We decided to go down to the hotel bar to get a couple drinks. It was fairly busy, with several people trying to gain the bartender’s attention. At some point, he acknowledged that he saw me and stuck up his index finger in the “just a minute” fashion. But what eventually became apparent is that people who came after me were being served, but I was not. And people who came after them were being served, and I, standing in the front, still was not, only being given “just a minute”. The “interesting” thing about this that only he, I and someone carefully observing the scene would be aware of what was going on. Also, he never didn’t serve me, he only hadn’t “gotten around” to serving me. Any claim of discrimination would have been very difficult to prove.

What I felt was a deep volcano of rage, the kind of furor that if I had had a baseball bat, I would have been sorely tempted to smash all of the glasses hanging over the bar. Of course, I really wouldn’t because 1)I could have hurt an innocent, and 2)I would have been arrested, a black man gone crazy for “no reason”. Or I could have started yelling, demanding service, but that, too, would have likely make me look as though I had wanted preferential treatment.

Zoe and I left the bar, and I complained to the night manager of the hotel, who recommended I write to the day manager. I did write him, and also my credit card company, but never got any satisfaction.

I’ve been to Boston subsequently, had a good time, didn’t have any difficulties. But GP, the Boston form of racism, indeed, the Northern form of racism, tends to be far more subtle, more clever than in there was in the South in the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, from what I can gather from folks I know in the South, folks with racist attitudes have adopted the more subtle forms of discrimination from their Northern brethren (and sisterern). So, GP, keep that gray filter on those rose-colored glasses.
Jim Abbott, motivational speaker.

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