Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Islands in the States

Make it official. Mark it down.

This is the Year of the Dead Celebrity.

Granted, many of them lived long lives. You know the ones who didn't.

But when I got the news that Jack Riley, best known to those of a certain age as Elliot Carlin, he of the bad toupee and the bad temperament on "The Bob Newhart Show," had died, it got me to thinking.

For starters, it got me to thinking about Newhart's first series, the best one, set in Chicago, in which he plays a psychologist.

Part of the MTM stable, the show rode a wave of more urban, more adult, slightly (sometimes largely) more sophisticated television comedy into the new decade from what dominated '60s TV. I watched these shows as a kid, some during my teen years on Nick at Nite.

Maybe that's part of the reason why I seem stuck in the '70s.

Anyway, Newhart was a genius at being The Sane One. Everyone around him was nuts. And that look. That pause. That telephone talk.

Riley stole nearly any scene in which he appeared. He took a caricature and made it a classic character. (Characters. Remember those?)

Now that I can watch television for an hour or two, I usually turn to these shows. I watch via antenna again (I cut the cord while ill and ain't goin' back), or on DVDs I either already own or get from the library.

Riley's death also makes me think of something else. Rarely do we share common experiences as a country anymore. CBS's Saturday night lineup at one point was the following -- "All in the Family," "M*A*S*H," "Mary Tyler Moore," "The Bob Newhart Show" and "The Carol Burnett Show." All popular, all top 30, "Must See TV" before another network, as they used to say, turned the phrase into a marketing tool.

One can argue the pluses and minuses of having 500 channels, streaming services, the Internet, etc. But one thing's for certain: we're cocooned, isolated, islands in the States.

The only time we all get together is for any kind of national tragedy. And, even then, we're watching different channels.  If we're watching at all.

Now back to our cocoons, already in progress...

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