Friday, January 24, 2014

The TV shows that made me, well, me

Concluding this week's theme, here are the television shows that influenced my life. Other than the first two, they are listed in no particular order.

M*A*S*H -- This one's my favorite, the granddaddy, a show that could make you laugh, cry, fly you to the sky, and crash you back down, all in 30 minutes. M*A*S*H made me a better person. Hawkeye Pierce is my hero. When my dad and I watched the finale along with most of the civilized world (it still holds the record as the most-watched episodic TV event), I felt like I was losing my family. You truly could get the Best Care Anywhere at the 4077th.

Magnum, p.i. This show was revolutionary and I'll tell you why -- it was the first American primetime series to portray Vietnam veterans in a positive light. Up 'til then, whenever you'd see one on a scripted series, he would usually be a screwed up drug addict. Magnum was also a lot of fun, ignited along with the original "Five-O" my love for Hawaii, and introduced me to two of my best friends, David Romas and Kurt Pickering, both of whom I wouldn't have otherwise met. Plus, Magnum and Higgins are one of the all-time great comedic TV teams.

Scooby-Doo -- Watched it when I was a kid. Love mysteries. Loved it even better when Jerry Reed showed up.

Murder, She Wrote -- This show was a Sunday night ritual for awhile. I loved seeing all the movie stars from Hollywood's golden age in guest spots, and it probably helped fan the fire burning inside me to be a writer. Although, Cabot Cove, Maine, must have the highest murder rate in the United States!

The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson -- Getting to stay up late to watch Johnny, Ed and Doc was a big treat. After VCRs came along, I'd tape the show and watch it the next day. Johnny Carson was my idol. I thought he was the coolest cat on TV. I wanted his job. But, Jay Leno got it instead, by his chinny-chin-chin, you might say. HIYO!

The Jack Benny Program -- I picked up a cassette tape of Jack's radio show in the 1980s and have never been the same. Jack and his protege Carson are my favorite comedians. The TV series wasn't as good as the radio show, but watching Jack's trademark look was worth the price of admission alone. Random trivia: Marilyn Monroe made her TV debut on Jack's show.

Twilight Zone -- Years ahead of its time. When it was good, it was great. When it was bad, it was still better than virtually anything else. Rod Serling, Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont are among my literary heroes.

Star Trek -- Gene Roddenberry's dream took me to the stars.

Family Ties -- I was Alex P. Keaton when I was growing up, for better or worse.

Hee Haw -- For all its corn, "Hee Haw" introduced me to country music talent back when that wasn't an oxymoron. Plus, I thought it was cool that the funniest guy on the show, Archie Campbell, lived in Powell.

Mary Tyler Moore -- Two words: Ted Knight! OK, four words: Mary Richards! (I still have a crush on her.) "Hey, MARE!"

All In the Family -- Quite simply the most revolutionary show ever aired on American television. To show you how much we've progressed (sarcasm alert), no broadcast network would even touch "All in the Family" today. We need Archie and Meathead to help us laugh our way through serious problems again, my friends.

The Dick Van Dyke Show -- Rob Petrie was the luckiest guy on TV. He worked for Carl Reiner. He got to write jokes all day with Buddy and Sally. Then he got to go home to Laura Petrie. (I still have a crush on her.)

The Andy Griffith Show -- I don't think I even need to explain it.

What's My Line? -- This is the most sophisticated game show in TV history. I came to it in reruns, but it's a gem, a gentle reminder of a time when celebrities had class (at least on the tube) and people knew how to speak properly. John Charles Daly's elocution and acrobatic linguistics were superb. "That's two down and eight to go. Mr. Cerf?"

The Carol Burnett Show -- Tim Conway or Vicki "Mama" Lawrence can't even walk into a scene without me bursting into laughter. I'm SO glad we had this time together...

Gunsmoke -- Far and away the best TV western, Marshal Matt Dillon was like John Wayne. Who cares if it was fiction? This show will forever remind me of my dad and my late grandfather.

Upstairs Downstairs -- This show paved the way for "Downton Abbey" and was engrossing to me even as a kid. I'll never forget the night the king dined at 165 Eaton Place.

The Dick Cavett Show -- Dick was the most intellectual late night host of them all. Where else could you find Cheever and Updike chatting together or Vidal and Mailer nearly coming to blows or John Lennon chatting with a New Yorker writer?

The Lawrence Welk Show -- Laugh if you will, but Ava Barber lived down the street, I loved the big band stuff (although hated polkas) and had a crush on Ralna English. (Are you seeing the pattern yet?)

The Dean Martin Variety Show -- Didn't find it until the tapes came along, but what a treasure. Dino could swingo, daddy-o!

Evening At Pops -- Arthur Fiedler, John Williams and some of the best musicians on the planet. I miss this one.

Cheers -- Somebody once said this was the last sitcom written by writers who grew up with scripted radio. Oh, what fun. I still keep hoping people will yell "NORM!" whenever I enter a bar. Thomas Deakins, David Barclay and I hoofed all the way up to the real Boston bar when we were there in 2009. Cause sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name...

The Fugitive -- First saw it in reruns on A&E in the late 1980s. I rooted for Dr. Richard Kimble from day one and part of me still literally fears Lt. Phillip Gerard. David Janssen is the most underrated actor in TV history. His later series, Harry-O, is another favorite. Janssen's chemistry with Anthony Zerbe was palpable.

Inspector Morse -- The most sophisticated detective in TV history. Let's go have a pint at the pub, Morse!

The MacNeil/Lehrer Report -- Other than Cronkite, they were the best news anchors (to date) of my lifetime. This PBS gem (now called the PBS NewsHour) delves deeply into the events of the day and remembers that a world exists beyond U.S. borders.

60 Minutes -- I've watched or recorded it for nearly 30 years. They were my heroes: Mike Wallace, Ed Bradley, Harry Reasoner, Morley Safer and, of course, Andy Rooney.

The Big Bang Theory -- This is the sitcom I never thought I'd see again. I've nearly had a heart attack laughing at those nerds. And, I LOVE Penny (cough).

Dark Shadows -- OK, it's silly as hell, filmed on the cheap, campy, creepy. AND I LOVE IT!

Dallas -- OK, it's silly as hell, campy, creepy. AND I LOVE IT! I'll never forget watching people leave Friday night football games early to get home in time to watch J.R. Ewing in action. Whenever I have kidney stones or the flu, I put these DVDs in the player. Watching Larry Hagman do his thing always makes me feel better.

The Bob Newhart Show -- Bob Newhart is a comedic genius. Best straight man of them all.

WKRP In Cincinnati -- Three words: Doctor Johnny Fever! OK, five words: Bailey Quarters. (I still have a crush on her.) The turkey drop is the greatest radio promotion of all time!

Dr. Who -- I've always been fascinated by time travel. Tom Baker first grabbed me on the PBS reruns in the 1980s. The current reboot is a modern classic.

Quantum Leap -- Time travel, righting wrongs, great soundtrack, classic series.

Happy Days -- Family fun ... and THE FONZ!

Friday Night Lights -- The best written drama of the decade (to date).

The Avengers -- Jonathan Steed and Emma Peel are the classiest spies in television history. Two words: Diana Rigg (I still have a ... well, you know.)

The Prisoner -- Underrated gem starring Patrick McGoohan

Yes, Minister/Yes, Prime Minister -- For those who love politics, this is almost a documentary.

The Waltons -- Sentimental favorite that helped keep my writing dream alive. I'm an unabashed Earl Hamner Jr. fan.

China Beach -- Groundbreaking series that should've lasted longer. Two words: Dana Delany! And what a soundtrack...

The Wonder Years -- Sigh 

Get Smart! -- AND LOVING IT!

Happy weekend, y'all.


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