Monday, October 20, 2008

My favorite sitcoms

Thanks again for listing your favorite sitcoms. Here are my top eleven (okay, I couldn’t narrow it down to ten) – in no particular order. For a series to be truly great in my eyes it has to hold up. The comedy has to be identifiable even if it’s fifty years old. This occurs when the characters and situations they face are timeless.

Not included are any of the series I was associated with. The point here is to single out shows that inspired me, not toot my own horn.

THE HONEYMOONERS – One crummy set, four characters, and sheer magic. A reader mentioned the word “rewatchability” I’ve seen the classic 39 episodes at least 39 times each.. The performances kill me. I marvel every time I see Jackie Gleason & Art Carney. All they have to do is just stand there and I’m laughing. And has there ever been a funnier TV wife than the sublime Audrey Meadows? Especially considering the sensibilities of 1955. TV wives were either ditz brains, or thunderously boring. Audrey was smart, acerbic, and clearly in charge. I fawn over THE HONEYMOONERS in more detail in this former post.

THE PHIL SILVER SHOW – Also from the 50s. Also known as the BILKO SHOW. This was the perfect marriage of the consummate comedian and greatest sitcom writer of his era. Phil Silvers as the lovable larcenous Sgt. Bilko was a comic classic and no one could write inspired dialogue and devise ingenious plotlines like Nat Hiken. Other writers included Neil Simon.

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW – Created by Allan Burns & James L. Brooks. The gold standard for multi-camera ensemble shows. The reason I became a TV writer. And the forerunner for other greats like TAXI, CHEERS, and FRASIER.

THE BOB NEWHART SHOW – You’ll see I have favorite comedy writers and their work pops up in several places. Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses bring a refreshing irreverence and subtle lunacy (if there is such a thing) to everything they write. THE BOB NEWHART SHOW under their hand was sillier than THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW but often funnier.

BUFFALO BILL – Patchett & Tarses again. This short-lived 80s series starring Dabney Coleman was truly original. The lead character was a raging asshole. Not “irascible but with a heart of gold”, no, Bill Bittinger was a first class prick. And so much fun to watch. I’m sure he tested through the floor but lying, conniving, cowardly, cheap, lascivious, vain characters are comic gold.

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW -- A smart, urban, funny ensemble multi-camera comedy in the day of BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, F TROOP, GOMER PYLE, and THE MUNSTERS. It was the sitcom oasis of the 60s. Created by Carl Reiner, originally for himself. He had the good sense to check his ego at the door and recast Dick Van Dyke. And he had the further good sense to surround himself with the elite of the writing community – Jerry Belson, Garry Marshall, Bill Persky, and Sam Denoff. This is another show with great “rewatchability”. And what kid in the 60s didn’t fall in love with Laura Petrie?

TAXI – James Brooks and staff sharpened, deepened, and further perfected the genre they launched with THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. Certainly darker in tone than MTM but more scathingly funny. And for my money the best storytelling ever. It’s the one series I always recommend to sitcom writer wannabes interested in learning the form. Chekhov in a garage.

TOPPER – No one mentioned this one. Of course it’s from a million years ago (the 50s). But Anne Jeffries and Robert Sterling as the insouciant young ghosts haunting doddering old Leo G. Carroll are a stitch. And the real star of the show is Neil, their ghost St. Bernard dog who’s a raging alcoholic. One of TOPPER’S writers was Stephen Sondheim. He might have had a bright future if he had stuck to comedy writing.

THE PRACTICE – No, not the David Kelley lawyer show. This was a mid 70s comedy starring Danny Thomas as a cranky family doctor in New York. BECKER with a big nose. What distinguished this show was the writing. It was created by Steve Gordon who went on to write and direct ARTHUR. Here’s more background on Steve. Anyone who has seen ARTHUR knows that Gordon was an absolute master in comic dialogue. THE PRACTICE crackled. It only lasted one season and has disappeared into the ether. I would give anything to see those episodes again. Or even get my hands on those scripts. Confession: I did work on this show but only to write one freelance episode.

FAWLTY TOWERS – brilliant farce. As someone who has had to construct and write farces myself, I’m in complete awe of every single episode. And what can you say about John Cleese other than genius? American versions of this have been terrible. You can't replace John Cleese with Bea Arthur.

COUPLING (UK version) -- FRIENDS for grown ups. Steven Moffat has created vivid colorful characters and devilishly has found ways to connect them in any number of combination's. The storytelling is superb, the cast is perfect (and unlike the misguided NBC remake where they insisted on casting people even hotter than THE HILLS – the British cast is funny and even goofy looking for the most part), and it’s the one romantic comedy that delivers on both fronts.

So there they are. There are lots of others I admire. Maybe in a future post I'll list my honorable mentions. Hint: None of them have chimps in them.

56 comments:

Simon H. said...

I completely forgot about "Buffalo Bill". My dad used to watch them with me when they were reran sometime in the late 80s on a cable network. Also, I think one of Jim Carrey's first appearances was in an episode that featured a lot of Jerry Lewis imitators(for reasons I can't recall). First rate cast, including the always underappreciated Joanna Cassidy, some gal named Geena Davis, and Max Wright, who unfortunately went on from this to "ALF"(though he was the best thing about that show by far).

Here's a short clip(not the best representative-wise, but the only one I could find): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6pbnvDoTsM

Bob said...

Yes, Topper! It'd completely slipped my mind, but I loved that show. I saw it when I was a little kid, but was still old enough to think that Ann Jeffreys was a real babe.

Which reminds me of another show I'd forgotten: Hennesey, with Jackie Cooper and Abby Dalton (another babe; I'm sensing a pattern). Very dry and funny, and at least some of the shows were done without a laugh track. And one of the best theme songs ever.

David J. Loehr said...

I can't argue with any of those shows. I saw most of them growing up--thank you, independent tv channels in the 70's--with maybe the exception of "Topper." (I even remember watching "The Practice.")

I did eventually see a few episodes of "Topper" because it used to run laaaaaate in the evening on WABC-7, the ABC affiliate in NYC, after everyone at the station had gone to bed. (Maybe Stephen was going down there and putting it on himself.)

I had seen the movies years before, and I even have Thorne Smith's novels, which were hard to find when I bought them and now can be found online, amazingly enough. (Thanks to the wonders of the iPhone, I can carry the complete Thorne Smith in my pocket. Because you never know.)

gottacook said...

In the late 1980s, Pantheon Books (publisher of the two-volume Monty Python's Flying Circus: All the Words) came out with The Complete FAWLTY TOWERS, all 12 of the Cleese/Booth scripts, which I promptly purchased. I'll never be a comedy writer, but for those who aspire to be, I heartily recommend this book.

I value MARY TYLER MOORE less for the show itself than for the series that eventually resulted from the success of MTM Productions: not just the sitcoms but LOU GRANT, co-created by Gene Reynolds (of MASH fame), who also wrote and directed the pilot. LOU GRANT in turn led to HILL STREET BLUES and other 1980s hour-long MTM ensemble dramas.

Geoff said...

In your last post on the subject you mentioned you want to see "Corner Gas." I do hope you find it (it apparently airs on WGN, and it's on DVD), and I'd be curious to know your thoughts on it. Everyone here in Saskatchewan, where the show was produced, is pretty proud.

Christina said...

You mention Bea Arthur - one sitcom that she did do justice was the Golden Girls. I think it's underrated. I didn't watch it when it was on, but catch it now from time to time and think the writers did a great job with four old ladies.

Ed. Wallerstein said...

I'm so glad to see my two all-time favorites make your list: Fawlty Towers and Taxi. Absolutely brilliant -- unconventional characters, stories, and downright hilarious. Which reminds me - why did Paramount quit releasing the Taxi DVD's after the third season? It's a real shame I can't complete my collection.

Tootie and Muldoon said...

What? Nobody mentioned Gomer Pyle, USMC, That Girl, My Mother the Car, Car 54, Where Are You or It's About Time?

How could any of them be left off a "favorites" list?

Mac said...

Phil Silvers video is gone! Know if it's posted anywhere else?

KEN LEVINE said...

Yeah, it seems the video is no longer available. Bummer. I removed the link from the post. Sorry about that gang. But rent the DVD. Trust me, it's worth it.

RAB said...

In my heart of hearts I was hoping against all odds that Joe Bash would turn up on your list. But I'm not surprised it didn't.

A. Buck Short said...

"COUPLING (UK version) the cast is perfect (and unlike the misguided NBC remake where they insisted on casting people even hotter than THE HILLS –"

Hey, that Sarah Alexander still does it for me. Especially that episode where she's dressed as a British school girl, with the tie and the blazer and the short plaid skirt....oh wait, that wasn't an actual episode, was it? I'm so embarrassed.

She's also done some pretty funny sketch comedy on a series called "Smack the Pony" (exactly what you think it means) below + half a doesn't other shows we never get to see -- even on PBS.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-6HqMHpkFo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXq2OyM3twk&NR=1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bym68WSrWeY&feature=related

Hey, it's an infatuation, OK?

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Time to add to my Netflix queue. And add, and add, and add.

D. McEwan said...

TOPPER. As a very small boy, I DID love TOPPER. We had a huge sliding glass door, more like a glass wall, between our living room and the back patio. I discovered at around age 6 that if I opened the drapes and went out on the patio, my reflection looked like a Topper transparent ghost IN the living room, so I used to play that I was George Kirby, and haunted my own home.

Lee Patrick, who played dithery Henrietta Topper, became one of my favorite actresses. She was Sam Spade's babe of a secretary in THE MALTESE FALCON, she has a small role in VERTIGO, and she gives an unforgettable, brilliant, touching-yet-hilarious performance in 7 FACES OF DR. LAO, a movie I love so much that there's a 7 foot poster for it on my kitchen wall.

Gorgeous, glamorous, 85 year old Anne Jeffreys is not only still alive, but still working, as she has just filmed a role RICHARD III, with Maria Conchita Alonso, Sally Kirkland, and David Carradine. (Okay, it's an odd cast.)

Marvellous Kathleen Freeman was the maid on TOPPER for part of the run, and she was always worth watching in anything, as well as being a wonderful comedy acting teacher.

Much as I loved TOPPER, I didn't include it on my list, as it is so long since I last saw it, I have no idea if it holds up, but when I was 6, I adored it.

The original Thorne Smith novels TOPPER and TOPPER TAKES A TRIP are back in print in wonderful paperback editions. If you think, because you've seen the movies, that you know these stories, you are wrong. Fun as the movies are, they are very bowdlerized versions of Smith's extremely funny bawdy novels.

Thorne Smith is nearly forgotten today, but his great books are still hilarious. The TOPPER novels, NIGHTLIFE OF THE GODS, TURNABOUT, these are screamingly funny books. if the fish market fight in NIGHTLIFE OF THE GODS doesn't make you laugh so hard you ache, you're dead. Patrick Dennis and Thorne Smith are the writers I try hardest to emulate and be worthy of in my own work.

I loved BUFFALO BILL, and saw I think every episode when they originally aired. Again, not having seen it in two decades, I don't know how well it holds up. My dear friend Martine Beswicke had a GREAT guest role in one episode as a transsexual Bill got unknowingly involved with. It has to be the only time my babalicious chum Martine ever got cast as a man.

I'm always of two minds about THE HONEYMOONERS. Everything you wrote about the performers is extremely true, but the show was a bit depressing. I was seeing them, while growing up in a nice house in upper-middle class Palos Verdes, so the grim one-room apartment and New York tenement life on that show was like a vision of Mars, and not a Mars I wanted to visit. I enjoyed Jackie more on his sketch shows. His AMERICAN SCENE MAGAZINE is what I remember most fondly. But I can't dispute the brilliance of those shows.

John Cleese and Connie Booth had a real luxury writing FAWLTY TOWERS, namely time. They could take as long as they needed to craft those magnificent, brilliantly structured scripts. Season 2 was made three years after season 1. That's a long time to craft six scripts.

"Hint: None of them have chimps in them."

Yet the Bilko episode everyone acclaims as the best ever is the one with a chimp.

I do wish they'd release more Bilko DVDs, as I've watched these 18 episodes now about 6 times each.

A typical TOPPER moment:

Henrietta (After a towel floats out of the room by itself): "Cosmo, that towel just shot out of the room."

Cosmo Topper: "Well --- ah --- of course it did dear, ---- you see ---- ah, its a cannon towel."

D. McEwan said...

I forgot. Martine Beswicke starred in DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE, so technically she was a man in that also.

Rinaldo said...

"Also, I think one of Jim Carrey's first appearances was in an episode [of BUFFALO BILL] that featured a lot of Jerry Lewis imitators"

Yes, that's true. Carrey had already starred in his own sitcom by then (THE DUCK FACTORY), so it was surprising to see him turn up, very recognizable, in a walk-on bit like that.

As I remember it, BUFFALO BILL couldn't resist showing us (almost every episode) that Bill did have a heart of gold -- or at least a soft side -- so that kind of watered down the premise for me. American sitcoms never seem able to go all the way with truly unlikeable characters (see FAWLTY TOWERS)... although ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT had some.

TOPPER syndicated reruns were around when I was young, but I was too young to get into them. I wish I could see them now. And several British friends have mentioned loving I MARRIED JOAN (it must have been shown a lot in the UK), which was of similar vintage and which I never caught at all. That's another one I'm curious about.

Anonymous said...

What was the Jackie Cooper series with the dog? Also, his series "Hennesy." a-j

Eric Weinstein said...

I have to agree with "gottacook" regarding MTM productions. Lou Grant to Hill Street to St. Elsewhere...all great dramas with the latter two having comedic undertones.

Ken, what about a column on the great "dramedies"?

Eric

B.G. Lewandowski said...

The UK Coupling is still one of those shows I can watch over and over. "The Giggle Loop" is my favorite.

Does anyone ever recall a brief sitcom called "No Soap Radio"?

Anonymous said...

I am so thrilled you listed Buffalo Bill.When I put it on my original post , no one else had yet listed him and I thought I must gave been the only person who found Bill Bittenger funny.

steve gorelick

Anonymous said...

No "30 Rock" on the list? I know, no ratings. Is the show too inside? Is that something you worry about when you're writing a sitcom.

Anthony said...

I was 10 when The Practice was on and I still remember it as the definitive Danny Thomas sitcom - much more than Make Room for Daddy - and the reason for my love of Didi Conn which continued even through things like You Light Up My Life. And yet, because it was 32 years ago and I was a kid I can barely remember it... only remembering that Dr. Bedford was as blunt as Arthur Bach ("Lose some weight and your glands will go away")... Bizarre that Danny Thomas isn't even listed in the cast on IMDB. I'd give anything to see if this was as funny as I remembered.

unkystan said...

Based on these comments, I just ordered "Corner Gas" from Netflix.
Ken...OMG! "The Practice" I so remember that one. (Danny in a fright wig), Shelly Fabares etc. Most of the comments are on the obvious hit shows but there are some wonderful (that I call one-season wonders)shows that for whatever reason lasted only one season. "George & Leo", "He & She", "The Tony Randall Show" and most recently "The Ellen Show". I got the latter DVD as soon as it was released and have lent it out so many times I may have to get a second set. (And my bro-in-law always takes his Bilko DVDs on every airline flight-really pisses off my sister sitting next to him by laughing out loud with his headset on.) What other one-season shows were dismissed that should have lasted?

Gridlock said...

To all of you showing love for SMACK THE PONY, make sure you watch (Season One at least) of GREEN WING.

I've yet to see a US sitcom do to the form what this did - amazing piece of work.

Also, BRASS EYE (yeah yeah, mentioned in comments before, but You. Must. Watch. It). Most of it'll be on YouTube..

The Curmudgeon said...

"And what kid in the 60s didn’t fall in love with Laura Petrie?"

Guilty as charged.

Never saw the "Topper" series, although I've seen the movies and enjoyed them. But D. McEwan's appreciation of Thorne Smith is right on the money. I must have read everything that Thorne Smith wrote when I was a teenager. Another guilty pleasure.

Mister Charlie said...

eers on your Coupling nod. My 25 year old daughter turned me on to it about 3 months ago, and it is hilarious (the Jeff character is inspired).

Mike McCann said...

I'm with you on TOPPER. Part of what the show work was the natural chemistry of husband and wife Robert Sterling and Anne Jeffreys. I scratch my head wondering why in the 20 years after this classic went out of production, the great comedy minds never found another vehicle in which to pair these two. Ever notice that real couples -- Robert and Anne, Lucy and Desi, David Birney and Meredith Baxter, even (though not cast as lovers) Martin Landau and Barbara Bain in M-I -- always exude that instinctive charm that does need to be coaxed??

And topping the sundae was the marvelous Leo G. Carroll, a wonderfully underrated actor. Go read Robert Vaughn's newly published A FORTUNATE LIFE and read of the deep respect and admiration Vaughn has for the man who played his boss on UNCLE.

Eric Herman said...

Nice choices, Ken. I would disagree somewhat with Fawlty Towers, though. I was disappointed when I finally watched that earlier this year. I thought about half of the episodes were good, and the rest kind of predictable and just not all that funny. Sure, it was very influential, but I think that Frasier was actually a better, more consistent farce show (for its farce episodes).

Joke said...

I'll chime in to contribute more of my guilty pleasures. None, alas, include any simians.

Besides the aforementioned Beverly Hillbillies and It's Your Move (in the latter's case, a strong nod to Bilko with some surreal silliness) I also have something of a soft (or, if'n you prefer, sophomoric) spot for Third Rock From The Sun; the episode where Shatner guested and he and Lithgow made a hilarious reference to having played the same Twilight Zone character is priceless.

Oh, and also I may, or may not, amend the guilty pleasure list to include Family Matters or Sanford & Son. But probably not.

-J.

Nat G said...

You invoke Patchett and Tarses in your mentions of The Bob Newhart Show and Buffalo Bill, and of course they also did some work as a team on Mary Tyler Moore. What I find interesting about them as a team is that what they did after they broke up suggests that these were not two guys pulling in the same direction; Tom moved on to do very traditional three-camera for-the-whole-family sitcom material with ALF, while Jay did the edgier, adult-aimed dramedies The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd and The Slap Maxwell Story. I can't help but suspect that it was the mix of both of these instincts that made their work together so great, that great collaboration is often the fusion of disparate elements rather than the joint effort of those in synch.

VP81955 said...

Thorne Smith, who's been dead since the mid-'30s, has inspired all sorts of writers (including me) with his ribald fantasy novels. Reading them today, some parts are dated -- particularly the ethnic and racial stereotypes, which thankfully are peripheral to the storylines -- but if you can get past that, there's a treasure of wonderful reading.

And while the "Topper" movies are indeed somewhat bowlderized -- why couldn't they have been made during the pre-Code era? -- they are nevertheless fun. One could imagine that if Constance Bennett's Marion Kerby character wasn't required to do a "good deed" to gain a satisfactory afterlife, she would lead Roland Young's "Toppy" on all sorts of adventures (wink wink, nudge nudge).

Paul said...

So you haven't watched television since the early-1980s?

Neil D said...

Fawlty Towers had some absolutely brilliant episodes, but also occasionally suffered from some of the most painful sitcom tropes. Too many storylines that pivot on ridiculous misunderstandings or a character (OK, Basil) behaving in a way that no real person ever would. I think that's why I like "The Germans" episode best: there's an in-story reason for him to be acting so confused and irrational (concussion). Don't get me wrong, I still love the show, but there are parts that make me cringe.

Sports Night may be my favourite show, period, but not necessarily my favourite sitcom, if that makes any sense.

If I were on a desert island and could only bring one sitcom, it would probably be Barney Miller. Possibly WKRP in Cincinnati. Both consistently solid shows with great ensemble casts, that never stumbled for more than an episode or two.

After that, it's a jumbled tie for second place. Arrested Development, Night Court, M*A*S*H, All in the Family, The Bob Newhart Show... all top-notch shows that are still fall-down funny. And, as a couple of other people have also mentioned, I have a soft spot for the old Jason Bateman show (actually, the young Jason Bateman show) It's Your Move. Some very clever writing there, with a charming cast.

Anonymous said...

I swear that I'm the only one of my friends who even knows that there was a Honeymooners series Most of them believe it's a movie staring Cedric the untertainer!

My best friend and I used to stay up late in his family's summer cabin watching the only channel that came through the rabbit ears. I enjoyed classics like Car 54 and The Fugitive, while most (if not all) of my friends have no idea these shows even exist!

I still quote "One of these days... to the moon!" which is usually met with blank stares or quips that I'm getting old (at 30, no less!)

Tom Quigley said...

The amazing thing about THE HONEYMOONERS was that the writers had to come up with stories that wouldn't take them out of the apartment, since that was the only set they had to work with; so any elements that they brought into the scripts had to be done within the context of all the action, exposition and story development happening in that one set as if it was a stage play. The fact that the show is still hugely popular today is partly a tribute to how well the writers succeeded. The only other show that I can think of that did that as well with the same scenario (although the comedy wasn't quite as over the top as THE HONEYMOONERS) was BARNEY MILLER (one of my all-time favorites) where, with very few exceptions, each week's entire episode took place in the same office.

D. McEwan said...

"What was the Jackie Cooper series with the dog?"

That was THE PEOPLE'S CHOICE. The talking (But only to the audience, so it was more like we were hearing its thoughts) basset hound was "Cleo". As I recall, and it's been over 40 years since I last saw it, the dog was very funny, but that that was it. One waited around for the dog to give a zinger, because the human stuff was only so-so. But as I said, its been way too long for me to remember if it was actually good or bad.

"what kid in the 60s didn’t fall in love with Laura Petrie?"

Me. She did nothing for the gay boys. And honestly, wouldn't the thought of coming home to that wavering whine "Roooooooob!" have filled you with horror?

My understanding of a guilty pleasure is it is something you love even though you know it's not really good enough. For instance, my enjoyment of Soupy Sales, ARE YOU BEING SERVED, and gay porn; these are guilty pleasures.

Thorne Smith novels are just pleasures. No guilt need apply.

"Ever notice that real couples ... always exude that instinctive charm that does need to be coaxed??"

Usually. (Ida Lupino & Howard Duff, Richard Benjamin & Paula Prentiss, and Charles Laughton & Elsa Lanchester would be others) But not always. Remember Landau & Bain on that British outer space series they did, where no catastrophe, battle, nor assault could ever dislodge a single strand of Babara Bain's iron-strong hair helmet? And then they divorced.

For a while in Los Angeles, there was a daytime talk show hosted by Geoff & Suzanne Edwards, Until they were suddenly divorced and Suzanne was gone. There was a similar such show with Steve & Cindy Garvey as their marriage dissolved.

I was always so amused by the idea of a married couple with a marriage on the rocks who nonetheless have to pretend to be the perfect couple on the air each day, that my then-partners and I, 20+ years ago, wrote and shot three different pilots for a talk show parody hosted by a married couple whose crumbling marriage was becoming more and more apparent on the air.

Leo G. Carroll, among other things, was in 4 Hitchcock movies, so clearly The Master respected his talents as well. His role in NORTH BY NORTHWEST prefigured his very similar role on MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

"Neil D said...
Fawlty Towers had some absolutely brilliant episodes, but also occasionally suffered from some of the most painful sitcom tropes. Too many storylines that pivot on ridiculous misunderstandings or a character (OK, Basil) behaving in a way that no real person ever would."

Welcome to farce. And Basil was based on a real person who, we are told, was every bit as awful if not worse. If it weren't for extremely hard-of-hearing old women, partially overheard conversations, and absurd mistaken identities, farce couldn't exist. Scratch even the most polished Joe Keenan FRASIER farces, and you won't find anything terribly believable, but they are still very funny.

But I'll grant this: Only 12 of the episodes of FAWLTY TOWERS are brilliant. The rest are crap.

I recall watching 3rd ROCK FROM THE SUN for its whole run, and always laughing at it very hard, although I thought it wore thin in its last season. It certainly held up better than MORK & MINDY. I haven't seen a MY FAVORITE MARTIAN recently enough to know how it holds up, though I suspect that Ray Walston's charm is undatable.

But I've never felt like revisiting 3rd ROCK, though its reruns are still on a lot. I definitely had enough. Lithgow was, however, inspiredly insane on that show. "DAMN YOU SIR!"

D. McEwan said...

"Tom Quigley said...
The amazing thing about THE HONEYMOONERS was that the writers had to come up with stories that wouldn't take them out of the apartment, since that was the only set they had to work with; "

I haevn't watched them in a long time, but I seem to recall that they left the apartment on a couple. Certainly there was the one where Ralph was a quiz show contstant, that had the scenes on the quiz show.

walt said...

Fawlty Towers...I couldn't agree more. My dad and I used to watch this on PBS (along with Benny Hill), and we would very nearly laugh ourselves unconscious. Still one of the all-time best ever to appear on television. My dad even moved to within 10 miles of the place....

http://www.fawltytowersresort.com/

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Doug is right, the Honeymooners featured a number of shows with scenes outside the apartment. The Raccoon Lodge, the reading of the will where Ralph inherits the old lady's "Fortune," the IRS office, the front stoop, the bus line's office, and the aforementioned quiz show set come to mind.

Jim said...

was seeing them, while growing up in a nice house in upper-middle class Palos Verdes, so the grim one-room apartment and New York tenement life on that show was like a vision of Mars, and not

They used to get letters from bus drivers and their wives, protesting that they weren't that poor.

Anybody else remember Buffalo Bill II, Slap Maxwell? I liked that show. Coleman played the same bastard character, with the gorgeous Megan Gallagher as his girlfriend, and Shirley Jones as his hometown flame (when he ran away from his girlfriend).

Neil D said...

@d. mcewan
Oh, I know Basil Fawlty was based on a real person, and I loved that aspect of the character, the rudeness, the snobbery, the snipes at his wife and the downright abuse of the staff... it's what makes the show (for me, anyway).

But I have a hard time watching the episodes "The Psychiatrist" or "The Anniversary" because he just acts so painfully stupid throughout that I feel embarrassed just to be watching. I'm familiar with farce. It can be done well, and it can be done poorly. The humour in these episodes in particular is about on par with something you'd see in Three's Company, and no matter how good the rest of it is (and again, don't get me wrong, overall I think the show is great), it doesn't make those parts any better.

xjill said...

I had the pleasure of working with Mr. Tarses at my old job and he is quite a guy. I'll tell him he got some Buffalo Bill love and he'll be happy, he loves that show and it's very unknown to most.

GeorgeBurns said...

All great shows. Reminds me of a question. In some older shows, there were car and wardrobe credits (usually Botany 500). Does that still exist today? I never actually saw a Botany 500 suit, did the company go out of business? Also, what about prop food? If the show didn't go with generic no-name packaging or obviously fake brands, would that have been perceived as free advertising, potentially alienating a paid sponsor? Were you ever pressured to include any kind of product placements in your shows?

Matt Bird said...

Ken, if you haven't seen "Black Books", you really must try it. It's about a wildly antisocial London bookstore owner. Three six-episode seasons. I think you'd really, really like it.

Anonymous said...

Great list. It's truly amazing that the Honeymooners has held up for more than 50 years. 39 gems, plus all the other Honeymooners skits preserved on film and videotape from Gleason's other New York and Miami shows. It's probably because of the universality of the situation ... no politics, no current events ...
I'm glad you added Bilko ... but Topper was a ringer. Completely forgotten ...
And I'll always have a soft spot for Barney Miller. Not only because of the continuing "is Abe Vigoda dead" jokes going around the internets, but for the superior performance of the late Jack Soo as Detective Yemana.
hulu.com has some hilarious episodes.

Tom Quigley said...

Doug is right, the Honeymooners featured a number of shows with scenes outside the apartment. The Raccoon Lodge, the reading of the will where Ralph inherits the old lady's "Fortune," the IRS office, the front stoop, the bus line's office, and the aforementioned quiz show set come to mind.

Doug and Cap'n Bob: I too recall a number of different sets that were used in THE HONEYMOONERS, but my point was that by and large (and given the limitation that it was live TV) the writers generally were faced with writing a story that the vast majority of time took place only in the Kramden's apartment, and they had to write to accommodate that limitation -- and succeeded magnficently.

Frasier Fan said...

Never quite got the love for The Honeymooners. For some reason I just find it irritating.

I did love Buffalo Bill. Forgot about that one. I'm not sure it would make a Top 10 list of mine but it was a great show.

D. McEwan said...

"Tom Quigley said...

Doug and Cap'n Bob: I too recall a number of different sets that were used in THE HONEYMOONERS, but my point was that by and large (and given the limitation that it was live TV) the writers generally were faced with writing a story that the vast majority of time took place only in the Kramden's apartment, and they had to write to accommodate that limitation."

In other words: my point was that although what I wrote wasn't true, it was as though it were true, and that though they actually used whatever sets they required, they kinda didn't, except that they did, and so they did something other than what I wrote but it was like they had, and which ever they did, they did it really, really good. In future please read what I write for what I mean and not what I write.

Well Tom, whatever they did, I'll grant you the "succeeded magnficently" part. And very often in TV, budget limitations are the mother of invention.

Have you considered being White House Press Secretary?

Tom Quigley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Pearley Huffman said...

What?! No Gilligan's Island?

Tom Quigley said...

Doug McEwan said:

"In other words: my point was that although what I wrote wasn't true, it was as though it were true, and that though they actually used whatever sets they required, they kinda didn't, except that they did, and so they did something other than what I wrote but it was like they had, and which ever they did, they did it really, really good. In future please read what I write for what I mean and not what I write.

Well Tom, whatever they did, I'll grant you the "succeeded magnficently" part. And very often in TV, budget limitations are the mother of invention.

Have you considered being White House Press Secretary?"


Aww, you guessed....

Tom Quigley said...

How much does it pay, BTW?...

michael said...

xjill should you see Mr Tarses again. Please mention I still miss "Open All Night", a Patchett/Tarses sitcom set in a 7-11 type store. It lasted half a season on ABC in 1981-82. I always hoped they have as fond memories of that show as I do.

Pseudonym said...

A few more British sitcoms that I think deserve mention:

- ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES. If you've ever seen it, you know exactly what I mean.

- One or more of the Jimmy Perry/David Croft/Jeremy Lloyd shows. Actually, you could probably take all of them as one show, since they're somewhat interchangable. Probably my favourite would be 'ALLO 'ALLO!, but a lot of people prefer DAD'S ARMY. People in the US are probably more familiar with ARE YOU BEING SERVED?

- YES MINISTER and YES, PRIME MINISTER. Taking both shows as a whole, this is the best satirical sitcom ever, no question.

I wanted to add THE GOODIES to the list, as it's one of my top-very-few all-time favourite comedy shows, but it delves too far into sketch comedy to be a sitcom proper.

James Cary said...

The Phil Silvers Shows - aka Bilko - ran for many years over here in the UK. The BBC ran it for months in the daytime to fill up the schedules, but as I watched it, and grew up to be a writer myself, I realised that it was a perfect show. Silvers is a superb lead and it's a great setting. A really strong gang of characters to bounce off. I've always been in awe of the show, but it seems that the show has almost no profile in the USA. (You guys still seem to be hung up on I Love Lucy).

As a Brit, I'd defend Yes Minister (and Yes Prime Minister) as one of the finest sitcoms of all time in the world ever. And it ran for five series - each of eight episodes (rather than the usual British habit of making two series of 6 and then calling it a day (Like The Office, Fawtly Towers, The Young Ones et al.)

Jack said...

Now that you have done your favorite sitcoms, maybe you could run a survey of overrated shows? As in, shows that are considered classics, but you dont get the appeal of. I have two biggies..."I Love Lucy" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show".