Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why period comedies generally struggle: Part 2

A reader wanted to know why period comedies generally are not successful. I asked the creators of two very worthy examples to explain why they didn't think the genre worked. Last week I featured Earl Pomerantz. This week it's Phoef Sutton. Among his many TV and movie credits, Phoef wrote and produced CHEERS. He also co-created THANKS -- amazingly the only sitcom about Pilgrims to get on the air. Phoef (who pronounces his name "Feef") writes:

Ken Levine sent me the following e-mail:

Wondered if you had a chance to bang out a couple of paragraphs on why period piece comedies don't seem to work.

Well, that’s a pretty tall order to fill but after thinking about it for a week and procrastinating for another, I decided to tackle it.

I suppose he asked me because I was responsible, along with Mark Legan, for that legendary cult classic THANKS. What’s that? Never heard of it? Come on, Sara Vowell wrote about it in THE WORDY SHIPMATES and she goes on and on about it on THIS AMERICAN LIFE. So, let me correct myself – you know that show THANKS that ran on CBS for six episodes in 1999 and was never rerun and nobody but Sara Vowell saw? I created that show. It was a sit com about the Pilgrims.

It featured a stalwart, optimistic young Pilgrim named James Winthrop, father of three, who would say things like:

“What a beautiful day it is – snow melting, everyone out and about, airing out their clothes, dragging out their dead.”

And

I’ve decided, in the hopes of lifting the spirits of our community, to hold a gathering tonight. Everyone is invited. There will be music and… well, not dancing because that’s a sin, or course, but it’ll be a… well, not a party, that would be wrong, but there will be lots of … well, not entertainment, because that’s forbidden, but I assure you, you’ll all have plenty of… well, not fun because that goes against everything we stand for…

He had a precocious daughter Elizabeth, who was just ten but wise beyond her years.
She would comment to the dentist that maybe he should wash his hands before putting them in her mouth because he might be passing disease from patient to patient; “There might be tiny creatures, smaller that the eye can see, living in people’s mouths.” The response to this from the dentist was predictable; “Sounds like black magic to me!” And then little Elizabeth would spend the afternoon, hoisted up in the stocks in the middle of the town square. But she didn’t let it get her down; “Father, my feet touch the ground now!”

You get the idea. I hope.

Anyway, Ken goes on to say:

A reader asked why period sitcoms don't seem to work. Since you had one of the funniest, would you mind writing a paragraph or two about THANKS, why it struggled, whether you got enough network support, the hazards, advantages, unique challenges, etc.?

Before I go on to the specifics of this, let me give a brief over-view of the rich history of historical sitcoms.

I can think of six. This is a comprehensive list that I compiled while sitting in an airplane flying back to LA and trying not to watch SEVENTEEN AGAIN, the in-flight movie. (I should say that I also did an exhaustive search on both IMDB and Google, where a search for historical sitcoms leads you to a lot “history of sitcoms” but no historical sitcom and that wasn’t what I meant, don’t those Google idiots know anything?)

I’m not including sitcoms about the recent past, as in That 70s Show or Happy Days, because they play more on nostalgia than a sense of history. And also ‘cause I don’t feel like it. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some. Please point them out with angry e-mails.

So the six are:

F Troop (1965-66) -- I loved this show when I was a kid. Mostly because of a running gag – Sgt. O’Rourke would say to Col. Agarn; “I don’t know why everybody says you’re so dumb,” and Col. Agarn would reply, after a pause; “Who says I’m dumb?” It doesn’t sound very funny, but that pause between set up and punch line would get longer and longer. Often whole scenes would pass, sometime the act break would come and go before that inevitable line would come out of Larry Storch’s mouth. This taught me an important lesson – despite what they say, comedy isn’t always about surprise. Sometimes it’s the great joy that comes from waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But history? Not much from F Troop. There were Native Americans (back then they were called Indians) but the joke was that they were all played by Borscht Belt comedians. The name of the tribe? The Hekawi Indians. As in, “where the heck are we?” (Okay, that is pretty funny.)

Was it successful? – well, it ran for two season back in the day, so they made 65 episodes. Not bad, but not a hit.

When Things Were Rotten (1975) -- A comedy from Mel Brooks about Robin Hood. It starred most of the Get Smart ensemble. Dick Gautier (Hymie) was Robin Hood. Bernie Koppell (Siegfried) was Alan-a- Dale. It lasted 13 episodes, which made it a big bomb in those days. Don’t feel bad if you missed it, though – Mel Brooks was able to recycle most of the gags for his Robin Hood: Men in Tights feature. Watch that and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the show was like.

Best of the West (1981) – The Best of them All. Flat-out the finest historical sitcom in the short history of the genre. Earl Pomerantz should be knighted, sainted and given the Congressional Medal of Honor for creating this wonderful show, set in the Old West. Why it isn’t re-run constantly on TVland is a mystery to me. But more of a mystery is why it only lasted 22 episodes. To say that it was a model for THANKS would be an understatement. Quoting jokes doesn’t do it justice. I only tell you to watch it. Only it’s not out on video. That’s right, Perfect Strangers is out on DVD, but this masterpiece isn’t.

The Black Adder, Blackadder II, Blackadder the Third, Blackadder Goes Forth (1983-89) The Citizen Kane of historical sitcoms. Maybe it was because it was made in England, where history matters. Maybe it was because it was made in England where a hit show runs for six episodes a season. Whatever the reason this show succeeded where none (but one – I’ll get to that) has before. If you’ve only seen Rowan Atkinson as the mute Mr. Bean, his sheer verbal dexterity with astound you. If you’ve only seen Hugh Laurie as the tortured Dr. House, his pure, unabashed silliness as The Prince Regent with astonish you.

Mark and I talked about following the lead of this show, and setting THANKS is other time periods (The Revolution, the Civil War, the Frontier) if it ever got tired. Silly us, thinking it might last long enough to get tired.

I should mention The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer (1998), which crashed and burned just before THANKS similarly flamed out, but I made a point of not watching it, for fear of cross pollination. I hear it was good, though.

Before I come to the last, and the only successful American historical sitcom, I suppose it’s time to address the other questions in Ken’s e-mail.

Why THANKS struggled, whether you got enough network support, the hazards, advantages, unique challenges, etc.?

Well, first of all it was a sitcom about the Pilgrims. So, naturally, the first strike against was that people would think it was just a sketch comedy. You had to hang around awhile to see that, yes, it was that but it was a little bit more. It was a family comedy too. And a satire. We called it silly-smart. We were the only ones who called it that.

Did the network support us? Well, yes, in that they, for no reason whatsoever, PUT THE SHOW ON. And let us make six of them. They never really gave us notes, for the simple reason that they couldn’t figure out how. The usual network rules (make sure the leads are likable, make sure we root for them, make sure they’re good at their jobs) just didn’t seem to apply. Sure, they were likable and we rooted for them; they were Puritans on the constant brink of starvation for godsakes. If that isn’t “stakes,” I don’t know what is.

Did they promote the show? Not at all. Did they renew the show? Not so much. But they still let us make six episodes. I’ve always felt like I pulled a fast one there.

The biggest drawback to historical sitcoms is figuring out when to set them. What period in history do we feel the closest to at this point in time? F Troop thought the frontier was that time for the 1960s. When Things Were Rotten opted for Robin Hood’s age. Best of the West thought the Old West was the time we felt most connected to, and the only reason I can give for its failure was that it just missed the Western boom in TV. THANKS? Mark and I thought the Puritan times were ideal for drawing a parallel to ‘90s. We still think so. CBS and the viewing public disagreed.

Which brings us to the one clear success in the historical comedy sweepstakes. The show which ran for 6 seasons and produced 168 episodes. The show? Hogan’s Heroes.
It ran from 1965 to 1971. As Sgt. Schultz put it, “I know nothing!”

Thanks for THANKS, Phoef.

61 comments:

sephim said...

Can you now explain why the opposite is true? Why do comedies set in the future seem to work? Or at least seem more successful.

Red Dwarf, Hyperdrive, Quark, Buck Rogers, Far Out Space Nuts... okay, the last one is sort of a joke.

There are probably more, but I don't like many TV shows or movies.

Papageiena said...

Okay, this might just be me being a nerd, but those excerpts from 'Thanks' are pretty damn funny.

Except of course, I am a nerd, and nerds are only a certain percentage of the general population. A girl can dream. Do you think historical comedies could work if they were really more of satires on modern culture? Say, if you did a 'Women at Thesmophoria Festival' but it was an all female panel at Comic Con discussing how to punish [insert mysognist male writer-director name here of your choosing there's too many]. It seems to be how a lot of opera productions are put on now. If I remember correctly, Covent Garden did 'Cosi Fan Tutte' with motorcycle gangs.

Perhaps one of the big issues is that in order to get the jokes, you have to know the history. I'm a huge fan of Kate Beaton's comics, but if you don't know your history (and it gets very very specific), you're lost. It's not all so terrible though. I had no idea who Herodotus and Thucydides were and why they were fighting over who was the real father of history, but I still laughed my guts out. And Wikipedia told me who they were so I learned something. Lots about Canada too. (Go here for comics - http://harkavagrant.com/)

Papageiena said...

Father of history comic is here: http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=30

Mike from Atlanta said...

I thought of another "period comedy", Roll Out, a Gene Reynolds / Larry Gelbart production on CBS in 1973-74. Mostly black cast about the Red Ball Express during World War II.

Baylink said...

> Maybe it was because it was made in England, where history matters.

"Europeans think 100 miles is a long way. Americans think 100 years is a long time."

I would have *sworn* that quote was attributed to Lord John Marbury, on The West Wing, but I cannot source it... I can't actually source it to *anyone*. Seemed appropriate, though.

Shame you have such a bad case of half-my-age, Papa; your profile makes you sound like you'd be a lot of fun to get in trouble with. :-)

mized: what happens when a Hispanic New Zealander steals your zed.

Pseudonym said...

Is THE WILD WILD WEST too steampunk and not history enough to make the list?

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Thanks for THANKS, Phoef.

It's Feef, Ken. Don't you read your own blog entries?

(I'm on a temporary private kick of spelling things exactly as they are pronounced.)

J S Swanson said...

Does Dusty's Trail count as a period sitcom? Granted, it was a syndicated show but there were 26 episodes produced. The casting was F Troop meets Petticoat Junction by way of Gilligan's Island. Heavily by way of Gilligan's Island, as I recall.

D. McEwan said...

"sephim said...
Can you now explain why the opposite is true? Why do comedies set in the future seem to work? Or at least seem more successful."

Interesting question. In fact, there have been a lot of successful sci-fi sit-coms, not just ones like RED DWARF (which I love. I have every episode on DVD) set in the future, but also, the various aliens-on-earth ones, like MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, MORK & MINDY, ALF, and 3RD ROCK FRM THE SUN.

I would think likability would work against THANKS, simply because, no matter how good the writing, there's no way around what HORRIBLE GHASTLY people the Puritans were. Who would want to visit with them every week? These were people who got tossed out of Holland, for centuries the most tolerant and liberal society in Europe, because they were just so dreadful and repressive.

They put about the MYTH that they came here to have freedom of religion. These were people who would RELENTLESSLY persecute ANY non-Puritans. They came here because in England and Holland they weren't allowed to go around clapping people in stocks for smiling after sunset, or having an independant thought. Their problem wa there was TOO MUCH Freedom of Religion for them in Europe, where there wasn't much. hey needed to go to a place where they could create a society where there wasn't ANY Freedom of Religion.

So they were a VERY unsympathetic bunch of nasty people.

Part of what worked about BLACKADDER was it embraced the loathsomeness of its various periods. ALso, because each period only had to sustain 6 episodes, they could write tehmselves into corners. If the characters got into a situation where a horrible execution was inevitable, they could do it. It's been a decade since I watched the series, but didn't they all die at the end of the World War I set-series?

And therein lies another problem. Bad as things are now, at any given point in the past, things were much, much worse. The past is a horrible place. Life in the past has always been grim; not easy for likable laughs.

D. McEwan said...

" Pseudonym said...
Is THE WILD WILD WEST too steampunk and not history enough to make the list?"

It wasn't a sit-com. It was tongue-in-cheek action adventure. Basically it was a spy series, MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. a century early.

Alan Coil said...

I just last week had gone to Imdb to search for Carlene Watkins, who played the mom on Best of the West. She was the reason I watched the show. Such a nice looking woman, and such a sexy voice. She stopped working in 1997, and Imdb says she is marries to Ed. Weinberger. Lucky mna.

J.J. said...

What's it say about me that I remember all of these shows, including Thanks.

A couple of other period comedies: Hogan's Heroes, McHale's Navy, Tell it to the Marines, Wackiest Ship in the Army, and, of course, MASH. All, oddly, "war" comedies. Wonder what that means?

DwWashburn said...

The most successful period sitcom would have to be the Flintstones. Yes, I know that cavemen did not have cars and TVs, but Pilgrims did not set around saying we can't do this and that, and post Civil War forts did not survive with survivors of the Alamo and their tower falling down every time a canon was fired.

Kimosabe said...

Just thought of another classy period sitcom - REMEMBER WENN. One of AMC's first original series. Very nice stuff, four seasons, 56 episodes.

J.J. said...

BTW, it was Cpl. Agarn, not Col. Agarn...

And how could we leave off CPO Sharkey? Don Rickles--"Congrats. You get a cookie."

Mike McCann said...

I've got to agree with DW on The Flintstones... accordingly, shouldn't The Jetsons (history yet to be written) also qualify?

Honorable mention (short-lived category), the Al Capone-era spoof The Chicago Teddy Bears, one of whose cast members was the wonderful John Banner.

Also, as we stay with Mr Banner, does Hogan's Heroes even qualify as historic? It was no farther from its present time (a 20 year gap) as That 70s Show was from the years it was first televised.

J.J. said...

And geez... How did we miss, It's About Time, It's About Space? The great Imogene Coco. Wow.

blogward said...

Simplistic, I know, but might the indoors/outdoors thing be relevant? Sorry for long post, I'm on holiday.

Blackadder mostly took place inside - so any jeopardy, suspense or conflict had to be between characters, or related to something outside that the audience had to imagine. Same with Dad's Army (to begin with) and Hogan's Heroes, ie WWII - which everybody has their own mental picture of.

The jeopardy facing the Pilgrims was all easily-conceived, external, and not character-originated: crops failing, mob discontent, invaders - what variation in character there was between them would take second place to the survival issue.

F troop was closer to vaudeville, like Blackadder, than Gunsmoke and Wagon Train, which it was really a skit on. Blackadder too was partly a mockery of all the earnest historical dramas that the BBC churns out.

Now a 'Gettysburg' sitcom might have a chance!

WV: gnerve = what real men have instead of nerve

D. McEwan said...

"Kimosabe said...
Just thought of another classy period sitcom - REMEMBER WENN."

I'd completely forgotten REMEMBER WENN. (There's a joke in there somewhere) It was indeed a lovely, charming show. And a show about radio that really captured radio. I mean lets face it, I love FRASIER, but there's not much of the radio experience in it. But REMEMBER WENN, admittedly about a vastly different radio era, really captured radio.

Let me put it this way, FRASIER was about a man who worked on radio, REMEMBER WENN was about being on RADIO. Even NEWSRADIO didn't catch it as well.

Ref said...

Mike is right about the WW2 comedies. I grew up in the sixties, but my parents had lived those days. They were too recent to be "period." I remember the Red-Ball Express series, too, but I remember it as a drama, not a comedy.

Paul Duca said...

Could you please address the one remaining issue...the whole "Phoef" story?

Nat G said...

I'll add one more, since I've been thinking about it lately (more in a "was that any good sense" than in a "I have abiding memories of that" sense): "Free Country", a short-lived 1978 effort starring Rob Reiner.

But yes, I think we need to separate "historic" from "nostalgic" (That '70s Show, Happy Days, Wonder Years, Brooklyn Bridge, and other things that would seem to be trying to capture the creator's younger years to some degree.) And given MASH's derivation (from a novel by a veteran of the war, moving relatively quickly to film and then to TV), it probably gets to be counted as nostalgia.

wv: panaters - a Southern Kentucky name for fried green tomatoes.

Brian Phillips said...

Mr. Sutton, thank you for the wonderful post and for so many great scripts; I have enjoyed your work for years.

By the way, for those who wish to see Phoef Sutton, go here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eh_DwN7Ur0

Other period comedies, "'Allo, 'Allo", from the same people that produced "Are You Being Served?" and "Free Country" with Rob Reiner and Judith Kahan as a couple that lived in New York in the early 20th century. I think all of the episodes were framed by Reiner's character as an old man, reminiscing.

Technically, "How I Met Your Mother" is a period comedy, if you accept the conceit that it is a reminiscence of the present day. It's amazing the money they spend recreating that "late-2000" look.

I am perhaps one of four African-Americans that liked "The Secret Life of Desmond Pfeiffer". If you looked (way) past the fact that it was set during the slavery years, you had a funny show, which bore more than a passing resemblance to "Blackadder".

As for future comedies, I suppose they tend to succeed because the future isn't written and therefore it gives a writer the ability to create a framework, as opposed to having one thrust on them. Unlimited freedom does not indicate quality. I submit:

Homeboys in Outer Space - Starring the current house husband Darryl Bell as an intergalactic janitor aboard the Space Hoopty.

LAX 2194 - A show about baggage handlers in the titular year at Los Angeles Airport. I didn't see it, but the creators of "Friends" wanted to cast Matthew Perry, but Perry had a conflict, since he was in this show. Suffice it to say that the show was not picked up as a series and Matthew Perry didn't pass up his most famous role.

WV: Eximogy - The field of study of a sect of people who deny their Aleut heritage.

Vermonter17032 said...

One historical sitcom that no one has mentioned is the short-lived "Rango," a comic wester that starred Tim Conway as -- what else? -- a bumbling Texas Ranger named Rango Starr. It had a 17-episode run in 1967.

welcometosherwood said...

One other historical sitcom: The Flintsones.

thomas tucker said...

Wow- Rango! I had totally forgotten that show and just hearing the name brings back many memories. Thanks for that.
btw, F Troop was the cause of my first understanding as a kid that reality was not the same as TV (this was before reality TV, foc course.) The girl from F Troop made a live appearance at the Arkansas State Fair and I got to see her up close. I was around ten years old. What a disappointment. Makeup and soft focus can really do wonders!
WV: denesso- that strong coffee that you drink in the den

Nat G said...

And then there was It's About Time, a science fiction and historical sitcom in onE!

vw: pallynat -- hey, that's me!

John said...

IIRC, the story about the girl from F-Troop, Melody Patterson, was that she lied to Warner Bros. about her age, and was only 16 when she was hired for the show. Which is probably a fairly accurate portrayal of the average courting age between cowgirls and soldiers in Old West, circa 1867.

The Hekawi joke came pretty late in Season 1, which either showed a lot of self-restraint on the part of the writing staff to hold off on that joke for so long, or a certain amount of serendipity in coming up with a tribe name that someone later on realized would be the basis for a great scene between Larry Storch and Frank DeKova.

thomas tucker said...

John, that's interesting becasue to me, as a 10 year-old, she looked ancient. Maybe that's because she was very heavily made up with pancake makeup and false eyelashes. The "artifice" was eye opening.
WV: untercu- that part right underneath the cuticle

Tom Quigley said...

Phoef,

Thanks for your comments and insight. Regardless of what could be considered a period sitcom and not, I think the ones that did succeed (HOGAN'S HEROES and to a lesser extent, F TROOP) relied more on the characters and on comedy that would work in any era, and not comedy or jokes that were just tied to the historical aspect... You could take a HOGAN'S HEROES premise (which in itself was almost a rerun of SGT. BILKO) and use it today, say in a show about a white-collar minimum security facility (BERNIE AND FRIENDS?), or working on the crew of an early 20th-century ocean liner (McHALE'S NAVY meets TITANIC?)... On the other hand, I'm not sure that anything that's based on the carefree days of the Black Plague, the lighthearted stories of the Visigoth invasion of Southern Europe, the jocularity of the French Revolution, or the laff-a-minute antics of the Vikng raids along the English coast would ever engender substantial enough ratings to help a show survive, at least not in today's market.

BTW, had the pleasure of meeting you when you dropped by Ken's Sitcom Room workshop last year. I was the one who told you I owned a copy of one of your CHEERS scripts, "Indoor Fun and Games with Sammy and Robby" -- to which Ken remarked "I remember that rewrite night!"... Keep up the good work!

Chuck said...

Dinosaurs would have to be another one if we're counting the Flintstones.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Hi, Phoef!

Hogan's Heroes, like anothe briish example you didn't mention , 'Alo 'Alo, was a satire on a very familiar genre on tv. Just as it is possible to do comedies about police detectives or lawyers or nurses while making fun of the genre being used, these comedies used the 'spoof' element of their set-up to give the audience the necessary time to get used to and like the characters. Historic comedies in the UK (of which there are more than you mentioned) are not possible because they have a better sense of history. It probably is because their better sense of history has led to a television culture where historycal drama's are still being made. Which i turn makes it possible for historical spoofs to feed of that. If only because they can use some of the same expensive sets and wardrobe. Now for they other quetsion to Phoef: what hve you been up t lately (and why haven't you got a blog)?!

Dana Gabbard said...

Here is a thought--both Hogan's Heroes and MASH had elements of comedy but also treated their wartime settings seriously. The plots of Hogan's Heroes often involved elaborate plans to gum up the Nazi war machine. So you had the surreal elements mixed with intrigue and suspense. The collision of human and horror was key to MASH and I think meant you couldn't dismiss it as empty antics. Maybe there is a lesson for the failed efforts in that?

Dana Gabbard said...

UGH--I meant collision of humor and horror

Wayne said...

"thought the Puritan times were ideal for drawing a parallel to ‘90s. We still think so."
Gee I can't imagine why Puritan times would not be THE ideal parallel to the Bill Clinton era.

blogward said...

Mash and Blackadder were not so very far apart - the same central snarky smart guy who knew, unlike the rest of the characters, that he was stuck in a place where the lunatics ran the asylum.

WV: rhymiloa = a Hawaian poetic form.

D. McEwan said...

I think we need to seperate "The Past" from "Historical". Stone Age Comedies like THE FLINTSTONES and IT'S ABOUT TIME (Even now, nearly 50 years later, I remember the IT'S ABOUT TIME theme song) are not set in "History." There are no historical records of prehistoric man. And as for The Flintstones, well at no time did man and dinosaurs share the planet (a little matter of 64 million years between the last dinosaur and the first human, unless you're Sarah Palin), so it was a pure fantasy reworking of THE HONEYMOONERS.

I don't remember if there were dinosaurs in It's About Time, just the title song.

To be "Historical," there must be some history.

Mr. Sutton's desription of the daughter in THANKS illustrates my point last week about relying on anachronisms in historical sitcoms. She wasn't being "wise beyond her years," she was being preternaturally prescient. A child casually coming up with Germ Theory 200 years before the greatest scientific minds did? It's a sketch gag, no different from Steve Martin in Senator Franken & Davis's THEODORIC OF YORICK SNL sketch. Funny yes, but working against any virisimilitude.

Of course, having the dad trying to come up with something to do at night and going down a list of prohibited pleasures (which would be: all of them) suggests the character became a Puritan the day before. Sketch funny, but not believable even on a sit-com level as behavior.

Besides, the Puritans had evening pastimes: condemning each other for overwhelmingly minor infractions or pleasures, praying, reading the Bible to themselves, criticizing, reading the Bible aloud, repressing natural urges in oneself, more praying, giving European diseases to the natives, repressing natural urges in others, and freelance disapproving.

WV: breeda: a heterosexual person.

thomas tucker said...

LOL. Breeda- not just a heterosexual person, but a term for a heterosexual person, as pronounced by someone from the North Shore of Boston!

Kirk Jusko said...

J.J. said CPO SHARKEY. That wasn't historical. It took place when it aired, the late '70s. Yes, it's the army, but the peacetime army.

I was pretty young, but I remember IT'S ABOUT TIME switched gears right in the middle of its' first and only season. The caveman and cavewoman ended up in 1968. They kept mistaking cars for dinosaurs.

AlaskaRay said...

>>Which brings us to the one clear success in the historical comedy sweepstakes. The show which ran for 6 seasons and produced 168 episodes. The show? Hogan’s Heroes.<<

Thank God. I thought you were going to say "It's About Time".

Ray

David K. M. Klaus said...

Baylink quoted:

>> "Europeans think 100 miles is a
>> long way. Americans think 100
>> years is a long time."

On a sweepstakes trip in 2002 my family and I visited Windsor Castle, one of the three official residences of the Queen (along with Buckingham Palace and Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh).

The village which pre-dated the building of the original castle keep is Old Windsor. The somewhat more recent village which grew in the then-empty land nearer the castle after it was first built is New Windsor.

The oldest parts of Windsor Castle are almost a thousand years old, as the original keep was built by the Norman Frenchman William the Conqueror after his defeat of Saxon King Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings in the year 1066.

Only in England would a village nine hundred years old be called "New Windsor".


WV: "iling", Cockney (?) slang for being sick, as in "O'im iling."

David K. M. Klaus said...

Dave McEwan:

Yes, in Blackadder Goes Forth all the characters but the twits leading from the chateau 35 miles behind the lines die needlessly charging out of the trenches into No Man's Land to be mercilessly cut down by German machine guns at the end of the final episode. It amazes me to realize it's now been twenty years ago since that series was made.

Ten years ago, however there was a happier coda to the series for the new millenium, Blackadder: Back & Forth, in which then-present-day Baldrick builds a time machine and he and the current Blackadder travel through time, changing history, providing a very satisfying ending. Finally, one of the cunning plans actually works.

benson said...

So Phoef pronounces his name the same as my friend Phoef and my other friend Phoef...cool

David K. M. Klaus said...

On one of his early space shuttle flights, Dr. Story Musgrave's crew were designated the "F-Crew" by flight management, which led to them referring to themselves as the "F-Troop", so in addition to the standard NASA "beauty shot" p.r. photo of the crew standing in their flight suits holding their helmets, a second "beauty shot" was taken with them standing in the same positions in front of the same backdrop, but all of them in period army blue uniforms as worn by Ken Berry, Larry Storch, and Forrest Tucker!

D. McEwan said...

"David K. M. Klaus said...
Dave McEwan:"

Thanks for the BLACKADDER update. I didn't know about "Back & FOrth."

But your name is Dave. Mine is Douglas.

Rich D said...

Another great British historical comedy is "Revolting People." OK, it is a radio series not a TV series, but it is well worth a listen. (And yes, the BBC still produces radio dramas and comedies, bless `em.)

"Revolting People" is set in Baltimore at the time of the American Revolution. A bit of Revolutionary War history is needed (Billetig of troops, etc.) but most of the jokes are drawn out of the characters.

The show was co-created by Andy Hamilton, who also created the radio comedy "Old Harry's Game," an hysterical look at the troubles Satan has running Hell.

Baylink said...

I was reminded earlier today whilst Wikipedia-diving, of one show that might fit here, but I'm not sure you call it a comedy:

Baa Baa Black Sheep, which ran for *2 whole seasons* (both out on DVD, though the 3rd set -- S2 -- is a French import with both soundtracks).

Does that count?

bableau: a tableau, except it's one covered with babes. See also Babe-raham Lincoln.

Sunshine Vitamin said...

I loved hearing Phoef talk about his experiences in the legendary Sitcom Room 2 (a historic AND nostalgic event). He and all the panelists were delightful and full of wisdom as only sitcom writers can be.

WV; coans -- sources of enlightenment; Ken's Friday questions answered by co-workers

David K. M. Klaus said...

Mike McCann wrote:

> Also, as we stay with Mr Banner,
> does Hogan's Heroes even qualify
> as historic? It was no farther
> from its present time (a 20 year
> gap) as That 70s Show was from
> the years it was first
> televised.

I think the difference was a matter of attitude. Hogan's Heroes wasn't written with nostalgia in mind, but as a situation comedy with dramatic elements in a particular time era, whereas Happy Days and That '70s Show deliberately invoked nostalgia.

I admit that may just be my personal interpretation and that other people's interpretation may well be very different. It would be interesting to hear what the shows' creators would say about the distinction.

More seriously, it's interesting to note that all the major German characters in Hogan's Heroes were portrayed by Jewish actors. John Banner (Sgt. Schultz) had been in a pre-war concentration camp, and his entire family exterminated. Leon Asken (Gen. Burkhalter) had also been in a pre-war camp and his parents were killed at Treblinka. Werner Klemperer fled Germany with his mother and father, classical conductor Otto Klemperer, as a teen-ager in 1933 and insisted to all the scriptwriters that Col. Klink always lose to Col. Hogan. Howard Caine, who played Gestapo Major Hochstetter was born in Nashville, Tennessee as Howard Cohen. Jewish actors Harold Gould and Harold J. Stone played German generals.

During the actual war, Caine served in the U. S. Navy; the others mentioned above all served in various U. S. Army units.

In addition to that, Robert Clary (Le Beau) spent three years in Buchenvald, the only survivor of thirteen members of his family imprisoned there, and still has his camp number tattooed on his arm, a chilling reminder of what happened.

Whan I was a teen, I had a friend both of whose parents had numbers tattooed on their forearms. In my youthful ignorance I asked about them, and they just looked upset and stopped talking to me. It wasn't until later that my friend told me both his parents had survived Buchenvald, and never, ever, talked about it to anyone outside the family, and only rarely within it, as it was too painful to remember.

David K. M. Klaus said...

D. McEwan wrote:

> But your name is Dave.
> Mine is Douglas.

Argh. Please accept my apology, as I had already known it and for some reason mis-remembered anyway.

D. McEwan said...

"Baylink said...
I was reminded earlier today whilst Wikipedia-diving, of one show that might fit here, but I'm not sure you call it a comedy:

Baa Baa Black Sheep"

NOT a sit-com. It may have been funny (I never watched it), but it was not a sit-com.

"David K. M. Klaus said...
Please accept my apology, as I had already known it and for some reason mis-remembered anyway."

No problem. I've been called a LOT worse things than "Dave" on here in the past. But somewhere, here may well be a "Dave McEwan" who was massively insulted to be mixed up with me.

(I have a brother who is a "D. McEwan" also, but he's a Duncan.)

Anonymous said...

"Cavemen'. How soon they forget.

Brian Phillips said...

To Anonymous: Didn't "Cavemen" take place in the present? Yes, the main characters were not as evolved, but it is not a "period" piece.

Regarding the finale of "Blackadder Goes Forth": what you see may be the only take of that scene. When the effects and the noise stopped, the cast and crew were so overwhelmed, that they had to take a few to compose themselves.

David K. M. Klaus said...

Brian Phillips said...

> Regarding the finale of
> "Blackadder Goes Forth": what
> you see may be the only take of
> that scene. When the effects
> and the noise stopped, the cast
> and crew were so overwhelmed,
> that they had to take a few to
> compose themselves.

I can very well believe it. Just watching it was disturbing enough to leave me upset for the rest of the night.

The Great War was a disaster for Britain regardless of who "won", as an entire generation of young men were cut down. The stereotype of the British Spinster dates from then, as there simply were no young men for young women to marry: they had all been killed.


What an appropriate verification word for the topic, "sewority", a sisterhood of spinsters.

Lawrence Fechtenberger said...

To clear a couple of minor points:

Mr. McEwan: Yes, IT'S ABOUT TIME did have dinosaurs. It re-used jerky stop-motion animation from the dreadful movie DINOSAURUS.

Mr. Jusko: CPO SHARKEY was about the Navy, not the Army. CPO stands for "chief petty officer," which is exclusively a naval rank.

Lawrence Fechtenberger said...

If we are trying to list all the historical sitcoms, let me add one that seems to have been missed: PISTOLS AND PETTICOATS, a comic Western in which the plot would be resolved every week by Ann Sheridan and Ruth McDevitt (Miss Emily on KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER) pulling out their guns and blasting away. They never actually hit anyone, but their opponents would be so intimidated by the bullets flying by that they would surrender. The people who made THE A-TEAM must have watched this.

Oh, and another comic Western: DIRTY SALLY, one of the rare examples of a sitcom spun off from a drama, in this case GUNSMOKE.

Kirk Jusko said...

CPO Sharkey was the navy? OK. I sort of remember Don Rickles wearing blue when he got all gussied up. I guess because it was taped before a live audience, they couldn't show a ship out to sea.

Anonymous said...

"make sure they’re good at their jobs"

that sounds like "make sure you put an adult figure!". I wonder what ridiculous "standard" notes they're giving out nowadays.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I was going to mention IT'S ABOUT TIME but was beaten to the punch. I will mention, since no one else did, that the Medal of Honor is called The Medal of Honor. The word "Congressional" is not part of its name at all.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

One other thing, the first time I heard that Hekawi tribe joke the name was Fugawi.

Alan said...

Why Phoef? (As opposed to: "Why, Phoef?") Why not Robert Christopher? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoef_Sutton