Ask Jackson: September 2020

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! Since July’s post seemed to do so well, this week I’ve got another Q&A entry, where I answer questions submitted by readers. Thanks to everyone who sent in something, and if you don’t see your “Q” here, I just may “A” it next time…

 

Track wonders… What are your thoughts on Amen, Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts Of Life? 

Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts Of Life are two of my least favorite sitcoms from the transitional late ’70s to early ’80s, attempting to distract us from their weekly inabilities to deliver consistent character-driven comedy with regular gimmicks and excessive cuteness. And minus motivated stories that are somewhat logical and/or genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, I fear they would be a chore to discuss in any capacity. Amen, on the other hand, comes from a sturdier MTM tradition, and though it’s a bit too consumed by the Sherman Hemsley persona to be a stellar character piece for everyone else, it’s funnier and better written than the other two.

 

Paul D. wants to know… Have you ever thought about a Wildcard Wednesday for “The New WKRP In Cincinnati”?

I thought about a piece on the revival series back when we first discussed WKRP in 2015 but concluded that it neither would have added to our look at the early ’90s nor been beneficial to our discussion of the ’70’s worthy original. Today? My thoughts remain unchanged and, quite honestly, I don’t love WKRP enough to go off on a tangent now about the revival in a Wildcard entry without feeling like my time is being wasted. But I could still be persuaded otherwise — comment below and let me know if you think there are classic episodes of The New WKRP that deserve recognition in a broad survey of the sitcom genre. I’m open!

 

Jon H says… I’ve been watching HAZEL on FETV lately, and I just reviewed this sitcom’s decline in ratings […] Was there any talk in VARIETY about the move from NBC to CBS, along w/ replacement of 2 cast members (Don DeFore & Whitney Blake) by 3 others (Ray Fulmer, Lynn Borden & Julia Benjamin)? I’ve read that Shirley Booth used her own money to keep the show in production for another season, moving to CBS, but I’ve never read anything official about that. I figure HAZEL isn’t a candidate for Sitcom Tuesdays, but have you seen it, and if you have, what did you think about it? 

Yes, Variety covered the change in networks and the new cast — the latter being Screen Gems’ decision, not CBS’ — but I’ve found nothing in Variety to support the rumor that Booth financed the last season. So, I can’t confirm if that’s true… As for my thoughts on the series, I’ll ask you: do you think Hazel is as funny as the others we’ve covered from the same early ‘60s era (Danny Thomas, Beaver, Dobie Gillis, Dick Van Dyke, Andy Griffith, Car 54, and Lucy), with a strong supply of episodes that are as comedically memorable as those other series’ best? You can already guess my answer… although, again, I’m always open to positive persuasion!

 

Charlie asks… Do you have any favorite classic TV variety shows? If so, what are they?

My interest in variety series extends only as far as the sketches, and I am inherently not a lover of this format because it forces premise-driven comedy, with jokes built around ideas instead of dimensional characters. Also, sketch comedy tends to be more inconsistent than episodic comedy, which at least has sustaining regulars to provide a baseline. Accordingly, many of these series tried to buck that trend by creating recurring centerpieces, such as “The Honeymooners” or “The Family,” but even the best were still bound by the genre’s limitations… However, I think there are several talents who excelled in this space and created great shows — Sid Caesar’s being the most extraordinary, Carol Burnett’s being the most re-watchable, and folks like Jack Benny, Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, Martha Raye, Danny Kaye, Rowan & Martin, the Smothers Brothers, and Flip Wilson offering uniquely comic programs that catered to their talents. Note, though, that I can only comment on what I’ve seen — so much of this genre remains unavailable, and what is available, I admit, I don’t pursue in the same way I pursue sitcoms.

 

esoteric1234 has a question… Have there been any shows that you prepared for sitcom tuesdays or wildcard wednesday that you changed your mind and didn’t publish?

I have never written formal commentary for a sitcom and then not included it here. I have, however, considered and studied dozens (and dozens) of shows for potential coverage before ultimately deciding that they weren’t worth any more of my time. The series that got the farthest down the pike before being yanked was 3rd Rock From The Sun… Dropping shows is much more common on Wildcard Wednesdays, for which I’m always looking to spotlight short-lived gems. Most recently, I thought about dedicating an entry to Good Time Harry (1980, NBC), a 40-year-old summer multi-cam starring That Girl’s Ted Bessell and created by Steve Gordon, who was most famously the author of the film Arthur (1981), but also helmed Danny Thomas’ great two-season sitcom The Practice (1976-1977, NBC). I was able to screen Harry’s hour-long pilot and then one of its additional five half-hour episodes. But, while I appreciated some of the dialogue and recognized that Gordon’s aim was to create a scoundrel lead who wasn’t totally good or likable, I ultimately thought the show couldn’t sustain its goal — Bessell didn’t quite have the presence or nuance to play this role, the supporting cast was hit-and-miss, and the scripts, in general, lacked the intelligence of Gordon’s aforementioned efforts. Plus, the writing seemed unable to commit to just how much of a flawed person he should be; frankly, there were other sitcom characters in 1980 on Soap and Taxi and WKRP who were less likable. So, instead of wasting a whole post on this disappointing series, I opted to cover the more enjoyable Love On A Rooftop instead. Thanks for giving me the chance to provide this bite-sized commentary here on Steve Gordon’s Good Time Harry and not letting my time go to waste!

 

 

Have a question for me? Submit your queries at the “Ask Jackson (Q&A)” link in the menu bar above. If I get enough responses, this could become a regular feature. 

Ask Jackson (Q&A)

 

 

Come back next week for another Wildcard! And stay tuned for more Car 54!

2 thoughts on “Ask Jackson: September 2020

  1. Thanks for answering my question, Jackson. I happened to be watching the HAZEL pilot (which FETV ran today) as I read your answer. As I mentioned in my question, I know it’s not up to the standards of these other shows, but it can be a lot of fun to watch. It’s been fun watching lots of great character actors like Mabel Albertson (not playing her usual snob) and Maudie Prickett (in a recurring role) on the show. I’ll have to look up old issues of VARIETY sometime, as I’m sure there’s a lot of good insight there about tv and all our other forms of entertainment.

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