Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Have we loved Lucy enough?

Neil Genzlinger, of the New York Times is one of my favorite critics. And I often disagree with him. What I like best is that from time to time he will take a position that clearly flies in the face of popular opinion. Sometimes I think he does this just to stir things up. It’s like if I wrote in this blog that I want Patricia Heaton to have my baby. The comments would be off the charts.

But in Mr. Genzlinger's case, whenever he does such an article (a la “sitcoms are dead”) he always backs it up with a persuasive argument (even if you don’t buy it). And he writes for the New York Times, so it’s not Cliff Clavin ranting in the Scientology Picayune-Intelligence.

On Sunday Mr. G. made the case that old vintage TV shows should essentially be put away forever. And tops on his list is I LOVE LUCY. Talk about spitting on the cross.

Before you get out the torches and pitchforks, here’s his take:

There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia and occasionally dipping into our past. But with all these retro cable channels it is now possible to go down the rabbit hole and watch nothing but these chestnuts. And in his opinion, a steady diet of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND and GREEN ACRES will turn your brain to mush. Can you totally disagree with him?

In terms of Lucy, he reasons: In its time, it was defining. But today the broad humor draws only the occasional chuckle. The show is like your high school girlfriend: Just because you loved Lucy once doesn’t mean you still do.

Here’s where he gets in trouble. I LOVE LUCY continues to rerun endlessly because it continues to get amazing ratings and make people really laugh. Every generation seems to discover and embrace it. And some of the comic set pieces are timeless classics. I LOVE LUCY is truly in a class of its own. It could be retitled I BELOVE LUCY. That said, I’ve seen every episode a gazillion times and have no desire to personally seek one out.

A lot of those old classic shows don’t hold up when you watch them today. You realize your love for them is rooted primarily in nostalgia. There are old shows I remember liking as a kid that I see now and say “what was I thinking?” LAUGH-IN for one. In it’s heyday I thought this was the most hilarious show on television. Today I can’t watch two minutes without cringing and wanting to kill myself.

But I will say this:  When I taught my class on comedy last year at USC, the half-hour sitcom that got the biggest laughs from my one hundred college students was THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW.  Funny is funny.  




To his point about the danger of immersing yourself in these evergreens at the expense of watching anything else, I tend to agree. And I am sometimes an offender. But not in television. Radio.

My favorite era of music is the ‘60s. Thanks to Sirius/XM and internet stations I’m able to listen to ‘60s music 24/7. And at times I do. But after a few days I just have to listen to something else. For every Beatles record I could hear on an endless loop there’s also the 1910 Fruit Gum Company. Get me to the Reggae station. Where’s my Nicole Atkins playlist? I’ve even been known to flee to sportstalk radio in desperation.

The bottom line though is I’m thrilled that these retro networks exist and that these old shows are still available. And, like everything else, take in moderation.

What troubles me, and this is not a point that Mr. Genzlinger addressed, is that now some of MY shows are on these retro channels. Those nostalgia networks are for shows I watched when I was six.
What the fuck?

80 comments:

willieb said...

There IS a lot of good television today. Problem is, most of it is drama, and most of it is really depressing. I enjoy the occasional MAD MEN, BREAKING BAD, WALKING DEAD, THE WIRE and the like, but after a few hours of people getting maimed, shot, swindled and chewed up, I'm ready for something a bit lighter. And BIG BANG THEORY and TWO BROKE GIRLS ain't doing it for me. I confess to escaping to MURPHY BROWN, MARY TYLER MOORE, CHEERS (of course) and WKRP for more than just nostalgia, but a look at really well-done shows that are fun to watch and don't leave you asking, "How did we get here, and why did we use a handbasket?"

Bryan L said...

It's always bothered me when people fixate on a nostalgia station (either TV or radio) to the exclusion of everything else, for a couple of reasons.

I worked with a guy who obsessively listened to 60s music. Problem was, it was a radio station, and like most, they played the same 15 songs over and over. During an 8-hour day it was absolutely unbearable. And there was no light at the end of the tunnel, because it's not the 60s any more. I used to tell him that I KNOW there were more songs than that in the 60s. I get nauseous just thinking about it.

The other reason is purely anecdotal, with no research to back it up whatsoever. I used to work in retirement/nursing homes, and invariably the people who were most focused on some past era had or were developing dementia. I'm not drawing a cause/effect relationship, but my experiences suggested there was definitely a correlation. People who stayed "current" were sharper and usually healthier.

BJ Wanlund said...

While he DOES have a very valid point about too much retro TV (I do have to stop watching at times), he does miss the boat by a mile about actually viewing it at all.

I love watching old TV shows (especially since I can't take all the violent and depressing shows that are on these days). I'll keep modern somewhat with shows like the new Dallas on TNT and Castle (which is on ABC originally but reruns on TNT), but really, there's not much on for someone like me who enjoys a very retro-styled TV show like Castle (which reminds me a lot of Murder She Wrote or Moonlighting), or straight-up retro TV shows.

Keeping current is all well and fine, but I don't want to keep current with the current crop of TV shows, if I can be totally honest. I'd rather retreat into my cocoon of safety and watch old cartoons (even old anime), old sitcoms like Will & Grace (which are still funny even today), and old game shows from the 70s and 80s (which have all of the things I miss from the vast majority of modern game shows, such as colors other than black).

--BJ

Dan Ball said...

I definitely feel justified in watching old TV shows. Sure, I'm the only child of older parents and I like old TV because it's what they watched, but it informs my writing a lot. ROCKFORD FILES and CHEERS have been getting a lot of views from me lately because I think there's something basic and vital to be learned about how to entertain audiences there. Some of that wisdom is missed by today's shows and some of it is part of a tradition that needs to be kept alive and needs to be passed onto future generations.

While I think CHEERS has passed the comedy torch along to future generations, ROCKFORD is a show that has something we're missing in media and society: guys like Jim Rockford. I keep trying to think of actors who could do justice to the role in a remake because all rumored successors just don't work. Vince Vaughn is no Jim Garner. Garner played a lot of cowardly but respectable characters. Vaughn's just played douchebags even when they're the protagonists. He's loud and boisterous. Garner's characters were quiet and charming, had a true sense of honor, but they were still cowardly anti-heroes. I keep watching ROCKFORD FILES in hopes of learning the secret to writing and reviving that kind of character someday.

Of course, I take in a steady diet of STAR TREK too. It's hard to learn directly from The Original Series because a lot of factors hampered Gene Roddenberry from effectively communicating his vision (including Gene Roddenberry). When you mix that with THE NEXT GENERATION, though, you get a pretty good idea of what STAR TREK is about and what it's meant to say. Since I'm a fan of both and would love to write for it someday, I gotta study even the old STAR TREK classic brain-rotters like "Spock's Brain" and "The Way to Eden" with one-time space hippie/all-other-time-hardass (and Kentucky native!) Charles Napier.

In closing, I think if you have the right mentality, you could save your brain from rotting when you watch old TV. Then again, I tried watching FANTASY ISLAND again a few weeks ago and I'm pretty sure my brain shut itself down with sleep before it lost many more of its cells.

Anonymous said...

Patricia Heaton comment.

Anonymous said...

Patricia Heaton comment.

Anonymous said...

Patricia Heaton comment.

Chris said...

There's a simple fix for Neil's problem. He can just not watch "I Love Lucy" when it is on TV. On the opposite side, I put on Lucy episodes whenever I notice they are airing, including when I am up early on Saturday mornings and Hallmark Channel shows a few in a row.

Imagine the complete lack of historic perspective and beauty if we permanently retired every TV show, movie, book, painting, or song just because somebody decided that they felt like said object had a good run but, in their opinion only, it was time to move on.

Want to see Mona Lisa? Sorry folks, some writer with an opinion no more valuable that yours decided it must be forever locked in a box. No more Bing Crosby's White Christmas every December. In the mood to read a fairy tale passage from the bible? Too bad, those books were all burned because, come on, how many times do we really need to read that thing. Casablana, Stalag 17, Citizen Kane? They were all filmed in black and white so they obviously aren't relevant any longer.

There are all sorts of excellent shows on right now. HBO, AMC, Sundance, BBC, and many other networks have really stepped up the quality of programming. But there's nothing wrong with enjoying something from the past, and not due to nostalgia, but instead due to the fact that it is very entertaining.

I've watched every episode of I Love Lucy more times than I've ever read anything Neil has written. That gap will only continue to increase now.

Carol said...

Frankly I never really got into I Love Lucy, so I can't really speak to watching that show or not watching it.

My husband and I enjoy watching some of the old shows, though. Part of it is nostalgia, but part of is that the shows we watch are 'classics' for a reason. Even Emergency! as grounded in the 70's as it is, is a very well done show with storylines that are just as interesting today as they were then.

I agree one shouldn't dwell always in the past, but watching those shows is just fun.

Lexavline said...

Having grown up in the 80's, shows from the 50's and 60's do not hold nostalgic value for me, but I do enjoy them. My current favorite is the Burns and Allen Program; Gracie Allen is awesome! Cheers, Frasier and the Golden Girls are my childhood favorites. Yes, I was an odd kid. However, it's so frustrating to watch reruns on some networks though because they have trimmed so much material to make room for more commercials. Hallmark is the worst at this. In fact, I find that I sometimes avoid watching old shows on that network simply because I know that half the jokes have been cut and it affects the continuity of the story. Stupid Question: Is it possible to include some sort of stipulation when a show is being developed that would limit how much a show can be further cut and shortened for syndication?

normadesmond said...

i did not like his piece, reminded me of dana carvey's kvetching old man routine.

nothing wrong with revisiting the past, hell, i live in it.

Mike Barer said...

Dick Van Dyke show,withstood the test of time. Dick, Mary Tyler Moore, and Carl Reiner are three of just a handful of survivors of that era of television.

Stoney said...

Mr. Genzlinger needs to take a working vacation and I recommend a trip to Jamestown, New York (Lucy's hometown) where the 4-day Lucille Ball Comedy Festival gets underway August 6th. I see that a recently retired late-night talk-show host will be there along with Lucy Arnaz. Could be a teachable moment for Mr. G.

Chuck said...

There are also new audiences for those "old" shows every day. I want my kids exposed to something other than Pretty Little Liars all the time ;)

Charles H. Bryan said...

Also, please throw away all of the Beethoven recordings.

Please, it's all entertainment. None of it is essential. Some people will always seek out higher-minded intellectually challenging material, and some never will, but I'm hard-pressed to figure out why watching 30 ROCK instead of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW instead of DICK VAN DYKE makes a difference.

I think what Mr. Genzlinger meant to say was "Can I get a rise out of some people with some half-wit bullshit?"

Kelly said...

The old sitcoms (and old comedy movies, like Abbott and Costello's) are perfect for families with small children. There's only so much Disney Channel a parent can take! My husband and I would show "Gilligan's Island," "Green Acres," "The Honeymooners," and Abbott and Costello to our kids when they were little and we all enjoyed them.

Jim said...

I watch a fair amount of MeTV - it's the default channel when I want to just veg out in front of the tube (which isn't often). Much of what they show still works today, at least for me, perhaps in part because I was alive when much of it debuted and I know the context of that time.

But for every good show there were ten dogs that have quietly and probably permanently disappeared from the airwaves. Glad they're gone!

Rob Larkin said...

Although I think nostalgia does play a certain part ( there's no question that for many of us watching Lucy and Gilligan's Island are part of our childhood experience) there are other reasons why many viewers turn to the retro channels. For the simple reason that almost all current television shows are aimed relentlessly at that "18 to..." (whatever the cut off age is) group, while perhaps the older shows had a broader appeal.

I've often wonder if someone like Lucille Ball (who was already in her 40s when I Love Lucy was made), Phil Silvers, Jackie Gleason, or Carol Burnett would be given their own television shows today. They would probably be consigned to the thankless parent or horrible boss roles most actors over 40 are given.

Brian said...

And the number of classic sitcoms that Neil Genzlinger has created and written? Oh yeah, none. Number of anythings funny or dramatic that Neil Genzlinger has created and written? What's that? None again? Oh yeah, he makes his living commenting on what other people create and write. Kind of like those lazy guys who watch workers building a house and comment on all the mistakes they are making. Why on Earth would anyone listen to a critic for anything? Really. Critics are people who can't do what they criticize others for. I have always and continue to find all critics opinions completely worthless. I would sooner listen to what the mailman or the plumber or the Starbucks worker had to say about something because at least they DO something in life. They don't just exist to comment and piss on other people's achievements. Brian Scully

Kirk from Kansas City said...

Classics are classics, and I'm happy to see them be available. Don't take my Dick Van Dyke Show away!

That said, this topic reminds me of a cartoon that ran several years ago in the Kansas City Star. It was a different era, and they were actually setting aside most of a page of the Thursday entertainment insert to a rotating roster of local comic strip artists.

This strip was titled "Comics 2812" or some such. The idea was that it was a comics page from the distant future. Each of the strips was drawn a in different style with futuristic jargon with punchlines that, while apparently hilarious in 2812, made no sense to our primitive minds. Except that down the page on the lower right side was "Classic Peanuts". For three panels a distressed Charlie Brown appeared to be wrapped in Mylar. In the third panel he said. "Please... let... me... DIE!!"

V. Anton Spraul said...

My daughter, who is eight, lists "The Andy Griffith Show" as her favorite show. So it's not just nostalgia, it's an appreciation of a fine show, of a type that is no longer made.

Also, of course, it's not as though we don't have enough channels to carry both old and new.

Michael said...

To paraphrase Lord Byron, it takes a man many years to learn his trade, but critics come ready-made.

Two points:

1. Why does The New York Times sell classic front pages and put out collections of old articles? Because they think historians need to see them? We (I'm a history professor) have microfilm and digitized copies. The Times does that because nostalgia sells. It also helps pay Mr. Genzlinger's salary. It's like the TV columnists (Phil Mushnick of The New York Post is Exhibit A) who attack "immorality" on TV while their newspapers publish slime, and wasting time on frivolity while their papers publish comic strips.

2. "I Love Lucy" was a pioneering program. It is a historical document. I'm not a big fan of the show, though I certainly agree on its greatness; I can have little use for great shows and movies, and enjoy shlock like everybody else. But scholars have debated everything from whether Lucy represented the 1950s housewife submitting to her husband to being a pioneering feminist by trying so hard to get out of the house and sometimes succeeding.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Regarding I Love Lucy, I stumbled across this interesting tidbit on The Nanny's wikipedia page:

"Viewers for Quality Television calls "The Nanny" the 90's version of 'I Love Lucy'... it is well written and entertaining."

It makes me wonder how many people rewatch The Nanny due to nostalgia. Probably plenty. Did they move on to I Love Lucy as the next step?

Igor said...

What actors today (male and/or female) can play a Phil Silvers' role?

Danny DeVito does well with similar characters. Anyone else come to mind?

Del Fidanque said...

Dear Ken Levine,
This post does not relate to your comments today. Hope you read it anyway. Don't know how to reach you directly so am hoping you might contact me and allow me to send you a query letter, 1 page synopsis, professional reference and 15 page sample of my dance play with music, Comedy In The Afternoon, the first play to celebrate DAYLIGHT. Am aware that you are not an agent but after reading your post about Agents it might be that Six Degrees Of is a better way to share work that deserves exposure. Currently keeping my company afloat by performing at Nursing Homes in NY Metro area. Del Fidanque of www.comedyintheafternoon.com info@comedyintheafternoon.com

Ron Rettig said...

Ken, Friday Question:
During your DJ days or later in your career did you and/or Dave ever try your hand at gag writing for comedians. Any success? I guess you preferred writing comedy as opposed to gags for standup comedy and talk show hosts.

Wayne said...

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

Mister Charlie said...

I've never been a fan of Lucy, nor Bilko.

I agree retro TV is all about nostalgia, not about better programs.

Anonymous said...

I am not a Lucy fan but one scene I always remember is Lucy, Ricky, Ethel and Fred were all in a cabin and I believe they were trapped in an avalanche or something like that. Fearing death was imminent in turn they all began making their confessions. But when it comes to Ricky's turn he says something like (in his inimitable accent) "What? I'm not crazy enough to say something. We may get out of this."

Now this scene has been repeated a million times ('Seinfeld' on the airplane, 'Almost Famous' on the airplane, and I am sure a million other shows). And this must have been one of the first times this conceit was ever used and yet it did it better than all other shows combined. So that must count for something.

Dave Creek said...

I agree with wilieb, who spoke about so many current dramas being depressing. I'm tired of "edgy" shows, as well as shows with endless ensembles and serialized storylines.

This isn't a prejudice against those kinds of stories. If most dramas were buddy shows all full of sweetness and light that only did standalone episodes, I'd get tired of that, too.

I just want some variety.

blinky said...

I especially agree about the music. I loved the Beatles but I can't stand to hear them now.

Don Jennett said...

If obsession about past eras leads to Alzheimer's, I'm doomed.

Don Jennett said...

If obsession about past eras somehow leads to Alzheimer's, I'm doomed.

Don Jennett said...

See. I've got it already!

Terrence Moss said...

I just can't with this Neil guy. What kind of TV critic pishtoshes on the foundations of the medium he writes about?

If these types of shows were still made, he'd have some sort of point. But they're not, which is why they're still being shown. I don't consider it nostalgia. I consider an education in the TV comedy. Just because it's OLD, doesn't make it a relic of a bygone era.

Anonymous said...

I didn't like Lucy as I was growing up. As a girl, I hated Lucy and Desi's infantile relationship. She was treated as a child and acted as a child. I viewed it as hell.

Phillip B said...

Lucy is a relative newcomer in my mind - I'm plowing through Jack Benny Program on radio, which stands up remarkably well.

There is so much available now that it does become overwhelming. Without context it is hard to make much sense of it all. Presented with some skill it can be a revelation. Imagine hosting a sitcom version of TCM - "and tonight we examine the early work of Richard Mulligan..."

But following this fellow's logic we'd close the the NY Public Library - because it has more books than any one person could ever read, and thousands that no one will ever read - and many he has already read and doesn't care to read again.

Victor Velasco said...

Nat Hiken's writing was brilliant; it reveled in the basic tenets of human nature. His characters could alternate between being a complete mess to bloated egotists; in Bilko and Car 54 there were a good many times where one person would connive, convince, or cajole someone else into thinking that what they knew to be real was unreal...the only things that will stop the televising of the old greats and the old crap will be demographics...when no one alive has any clue of ice boxes, dial phones, telegrams and all that jazz

Bugdun said...

The first episode of Mr. Ed is still one of the funniest sitcom episodes I have ever seen.
In the late '80s I taped it off of TV Land and played it for my son and about five of his buddies, and they were rolling on the floor laughing their asses off. Great memory.

Anonymous said...

I Love Lucy is a television sitcom classic and Lucille Ball is the First Lady of Television and Queen of Comedy. I Love Lucy will still be playing 25 years from now. I have watched every episode and bought all the DVDs on all of Miss Ball's shows. The comedies of today are horrible, i.e. 2 Broke Girls, Two & A Half Men, The Goldbergs, The Millers and every NBC comedy in the past 8 years (with the exception of The Office).

SharoneRosen said...

I've always felt like a heretic. I don't love Lucy. I did when I was a kid. And the good comedy bits are gold. But when I was in junior high, it started to bother me how mean Lucy was to her "best friend!" Ethel took an awful lot of verbal abuse from Lucy, about her size, her life, her husband. On top of that, and worse, Ricky hit her. We would see him spank her and Lucy would refer to being afraid Ricky would clobber her for one infraction or another. Nope not for me.

Classics that hold up, nothing compares to Dick Van Dyke, Barney Miller, Cheers and of course MASH (is that really a sitcom???)

DBenson said...

Actually, "I Love Lucy" seems to be far less omnipresent than it did in my boomer childhood. Likewise other venerable classics: "You Bet Your Life", "Perry Mason", "Wild Wild West", the 50s "Superman" and the 60s "Batman". When you see them, they're usually on explicitly nostalgia-themed cable channels.

I think this has something to do with the passing of the local non-network stations, the ones that filled their schedules with off-network reruns and syndicated fare, along with older movies. I can remember ads for a "new fall lineup" that consisted entirely of reruns that had just been cancelled from networks. Also the emphasis on all-color programming as color sets became semi-affordable.

Now it seems that far fewer broadcast stations aren't affiliated to some network with original programming, and/or they're into niche programming."Cheers", "MASH", "Seinfeld" and "Simpsons" seem to be the new evergreens, when not displaced temporarily by newer product (including old episodes of shows still on network).

And, of course, video availability. Most of the serious fans can own them in commercial-free form.

Anonymous said...

Here is an interesting archive of Old time Television. From Amos and Andy to Wild Wild West to the very obscure.

http://www.solie.org/alibrary/

Meany programs have all episodes.

Roger Owen Green said...

As a librarian, I just don't buy getting rid of popular culture. This stuff disappears often enough because the kinescopes got thrown out, or the ratings were too low. While I just can't watch Lucy anymore, - but can always watch Andy Griffith Show, at least the b&w episodes - putting them away, when people still want to watch them, makes little sense.

Taneka said...

Those old shows like Lucy and Dick Van Dyke and the Honeymooners and Andy Griffith are sexist and offensive. They do not empower women or minorities and should not be shown.

For that matter, did Cheers have a "whites only" sign hanging on the door that we never saw?

D. McEwan said...

So his point is: "You shouldn't watch only classic TV, so therefore, these shows should be burned."

Ah, Freedom of Choice anyone? I fully agree that one should not watch nothing at all but METV and ANNTENNAE TV, but then, who does? It's like saying: "One shouldn't eat nothing but chocolate, so let's ban chocolate."

But in any event, if you want to watch nothing but Classic TV, go ahead and do so. Free Society and all that.

I'd hate to be forever without Jack Benny, Burns & Allen, Phil Silvers and Dobie Gillis. But I've now seen every Jack Benny show and every Burns & Allen show Anntenna TV has, so I'm not watching them right now. But I like that they're there. Last year I watched every Dobie Gillis episode. They hold up. But I'm not watching them now as I just saw all of them.

All this critic really needed to say is "Moderation in all things is wise, but you go watch what you want and I'll watch what I want." (Except Doctor Who. I can re-binge-watch those forever.)

Now if you'll excuse me, Match Game '76 is on GSN. I hear that this will be the episode where Brett Somers make a funny (Well, alleged funny)about her and Gene Rayburn in a motel in Encino while Charles Nelson Reilly looks disapproving and then plugs The Belle Of Amhurst. Brett & Gene making The-Game-Show-Panalist-With-Two-Backs is a sexual image I'll never be able to scrub from my brain.

And my DVR remains programmed to catch any and all Bilko epside that shows up.

D. McEwan said...

However, re: Too much I LOVE LUCY: I had a friend from whom I am now forever estranged ('Cause he's a douchebag) who is an obssessive I Love Lucy fan. He has every episode on DVD, and a day doesn't pass when he doesn't watch at least one episode, never mind that he has them all memorized. His bedroom is like a Lucy museum. Thousands of Lucy merchandising items line all its shelves, and Lucy pictures, tin signs and license plates cover the walls. He even has a huge poster of the entire I Love Lucy cast on the ceiling above his bed to look at while he goes to sleep or has sex. Ew. (Part of our friendship ending was his jealousy that I had worked with Lucille Ball, and found her scary in person rather than my One True Goddess, once while he, who would have sacrificed his first born on an alter to Lucy if her weren't gay-therefore-childless, never even met her.)

He's a case where it has truely rotted his brain. And don't get me started on his Bewitched den.

But when I leant him some Bilko DVDs, he watched two episodes and returned it, saying it was terrible, that Bilko was an unlikeable crook (How do you miss Ernie Bilko's heart of mush?) and he didn't think they were funny.

I Love Lucy should not be locked away forever, but a case could be made for locking him away.

Awespishus said...

I've been getting into The Virginian, a show that started running when I was 3. It's an excellent program, despite some lapses in quality, the end of season 4 for example. The reason I even knew of its currently running was due to the fact that I leave the TV on for my dog and COZI TV, channel 4.2 on my antenna-only flatscreen, comes in best in my neighborhood. From Percy Faith's rousing title theme to the end credits, this really is quality work, most of the time, anyway. It's always fun to see venerable stars in their careers' infancy. Just about every other show, William Shatner or Charles Bronson or Telly Savales - someone like that - will show up. The Virginian exists outside of time somehow and has not dated as the setting itself was non-contemporary. Other retro shows on COZI are (and probably were) just awful.The Adventures of Jim Bowie, which follows The Virginian, just sucks. But other shows like The Avengers and Magnum have always proven consistently entertaining and diverting. Of course, my favorite show of all time is Gilligan's Island and there's no way anyone can ever tell me this is not a sterling example of Commedia dell'Arte at its very best and that Jim Backus was not a genuine genius. Funny enough, I was walking by the TV and Charlie's Angels was on. I stopped to watch for a sec. The Villain in this episode? Alan Hale Jr. A 3-hour tour. They will live forever. God bless them all.

Pixie Portnoy said...

How would he like it if we pissed on Citizen Kane? And told him it was time to "retire" it and watch Adam Sandler movies or film comedy bombs like Sex Tape instead. Because you know, it's in black and white and nobody reads newspapers anymore and Kane isn't a relatable character.

Coincidentally while I work on the computer today I'm watching I Love Lucy on DVD. Beautifully restored in rich black and white (because it was shot on film by the great Karl Freund it looks fantastic today compared to other TV from the same era). Lots of bonus features, clips from the radio show My Favorite Husband which was sort of a prototype of ILL, info about the cast, production notes, scripts, etc.

So many quirky aspects of the show that worked amazingly well: the foursome as an ensemble, Fred and Ethel having a background in vaudeville draw on, Desi as the buzzkill they all need to rebel against, the shows set in LA and Europe, etc.

I recently read Laughing with Lucy by Madeleine Pugh Davis and one thing that kept coming across is how much the writers (and cast) drew on their own personal experiences for episode ideas and characters.

I don't think of the show as "nostalgia" at all -- on the surface the Ricky/Lucy relationship may seem like a relic of the 50s, but Lucy's scheming and the entire show can be viewed as subversive of the prevailing values of that era.

Anonymous said...

That column is blatant click-bait, and disappointingly glib click-bait to boot.

Is there some epidemic going around where people are watching nothing but vintage TV? Seriously, does anyone anywhere do that? Many (most?) of us will watch an old favorite now and then for variety's sake, but who are these people who refuse to engage with today's TV culture? If that's what they prefer, that's their privilege; I just don't believe they exist in anything but the most minimal numbers. It's hard to accept that Genzlinger's views are offered in good faith in this particular instance. he's a good critic, and he knows better.

He's also far too indiscriminate. Some of the shows he lists are dated and nothing special, but c'mon - I Love Lucy is not just a classic, it's an obvious classic. If you can't see that, you probably should be using your time in ways that don't involve writing television criticism. Even if some aspects of the show don't comply with contemporary norms, it's still exemplary as far as comic writing and performing are concerned. I say that as someone who admires Lucille Ball as a performer but is under no illusions as to her personal temperament.


Larry V

Anonymous said...

Neil doesn't really have a clue. Of course you shouldn't watch those all day, but there is still plenty to be said for them.

Some shows, like some movies hold up better than others. Watch The Graduate today- it's not really that good. Bonnie and Clyde is still a superb movie.

A couple of other points:
Some episodes of Dobie Gillis are mundane sitcom junk, especially in the middle of the run. Other episodes are better parodies of society than anything on TV today. There is a lot of variability there. Shulman knew what he was doing.

The cultural literati look at Green Acres and Beverly Hillbilies as cornpone humor. Some of the episodes are- mundane sitcom stuff.
Others are among the most clever satire ever done on television. Gee do you think the Hillbillies writers weren't having a field day with rich conservative Southern California types of the early 1960's? Watch how they satirize the James Bond craze or the beatniks. And the way the four main characters stayed in character all the time. Watch Buddy Ebsen and irene Ryan in three or four early episodes. Tell me that isn't superb acting.

How about the fourth wall breaks in Green Acres? Or the digs at government bureaucracy?

Finally, it's possible not to watch those shows the same way you did when you were 12. Get the computer and watch an episode of I Love Lucy and read the backstories about the actual personal relationships between Lucy and Vivian Vance (who always had to look older) or Vivian and Frawley (who was 20 years older and she disliked) or Lucy and Ricky (what was actually behind their breakup?)

Watch the Honeymooners for the interplay between Gleason and Carney- there has never been a greater television comic duo. Sorry Ken, even Fraser and Niles come up short in comparison- altho there is plenty of Gleason and Carney in them (after all, they are both derivative of Laurel and Hardy).
BTW- watch Curb Your Enthusiasm - basically the same premise as The Honeymooners, just updated to Southern California fifty years later with more profanity. Ralph and Larry are both Everyman.

Watch Bewitched, knowing today that most of the main characters were gay in real life and how they played their television characters (like watching a 1950's Rock Hudson movie). Or watching Maurice Evans and Agnes Morehead, two incredible actors chew up scenery, knowing what they were capable of in other settings.

Watch Bilko with the knowledge that Phil Silvers was a very complicated man offstage.

That's part of the beauty of the internet- you can experience old TV or movies or music in a completely different way than the first time with the knowledge of the real life stories and perspective.

Neil doesn't get all that.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

To those who argue that Genzinger has no right to an opinion because he's never created a sitcom, I say: that's ridiculous. Disagree with him all you want, but if the only people who were allowed to have opinions about TV were TV writers...then hardly any of the commenters on this blog would have anything to say either.

I can see that Lucille Ball was a brilliant comedienne, but I never loved her show. I liked her far better in other things (including pre-TV movies she did, such as STAGE DOOR and WITHOUT LOVE). On the other hand, I never get bored of THE HONEYMOONERS (whose fans included Groucho Marx), and because there are only 39 of those each one has doubtless been broadcast many more times than any single episode of I LOVE LUCY.

That said, I met someone a while back whose only TV watching is of shows from the 1950s and who hardly referenced anything after 1960. It was *incredibly* difficult to find subjects to talk about. As they say, everything in moderation.

wg

Albert Giesbrecht said...

The one thing I have learned from watching METV is that the new catheters don't hurt as much.

Anonymous said...

Another Patricia Heaton comment.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I watch nothing but classic television. I loathe, nay, despise modern television, where all the humor is based on sex, all the situations are based on sex, all the dialogue is based on sex, all the characters are wrapped up in sex, and the premises are all set on sex. Back in the day, humor was genuinely funny, situations may have been broad or outlandish but they were entertaining, characters were appealing and endearing (and it was also nice that back then, it was the show the made the actors stars, not trying to have stars make the shows). All and all, television back then was clean, decent, wholesome, and good. I actually contacted the FCC recently (yes, I actually contacted the FCC) and wanted to know if it's supposed to be their job to regulate the kind of content that's broadcasted on television, why is there so much filth and more and more of it on television today? You know what their response was? Complain to the networks. That's right; the FCC doesn't even care and isn't even taking responsibility. Shows I watch regularly are THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, BEWITCHED, GREEN ACRES, HOGAN'S HEROES, I DREAM OF JEANNIE, I LOVE LUCY, LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, M*A*S*H, THE MUNSTERS, THE ODD COUPLE, SANFORD AND SON... if it's got Charley Douglass' laugh track, more than likely I'll watch. I even prefer SEINFELD and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND over flat shots like THE OFFICE, MODERN FAMILY, THE BIG BANG THEORY, GLEE, and other garbage today. Seriously.

Now, all that aside, he's yet another Friday question (I never quit, do I?): Ken, you and David wrote the M*A*S*H episode "Ain't Love Grand," which actually touches on Hawkeye's habit of sniffing his food, which is something I've actually noticed over the years, and now I'm curious to know was that perhaps a habit that Alan Alda himself had that spilled over into his performances, or was it something that he ad-libbed once that stuck? Either way, I gather it was something you and David took notice of as well and decided to draw attention to it.

Johnny Walker said...

Getting locked in the past is obviously not good for anyone. I'm sure it's a really a case of not feeling connected to what's going on, and then not really trying hard to overcome that. It's especially sad when you meet people in their early 30s who insist there's no good modern music. So young to have lost interest!

Just like hearing people say, "kids today...", you wonder if they realise how much of a cliche they've become.

I've always found that there's high quality culture that you will love (if you let yourself) in ANY era (or genre). You just might have to work to find it.

So I agree with those who say moderation is the key... A broad spread of genres and eras is good for you, if you ask me. Getting stuck in one era is the real danger (even if it's only what you consider 'modern'). .

But I also think there's nothing with the occasional gorging: Everything in moderation -- including moderation itself :)

Anonymous said...

Is this what the New York Times has come to? A troll for a critic? This guy is apparently writing this wanting to stir a hornet's nest, anyone who feels I LOVE LUCY does not hold up and only has an "occasional chuckle" or whatever he said obviously does not appreciate or enjoy quality comedy and should not be a television critic. Sad people are taking his bait just like they do the other trolls on Internet Movie Database etc. when they bash things just to get a rise out of the show/performer's wide audience. The most interesting about this little drama is that NYT has already shut down the comments section there.

DrBOP said...

Expert

x = unknown quantity

spurt = nothin' but a drip

Expert = unknown drip

DrBOP said...

Oh, and this fella reacts in a similar fashion :

http://willmckinley.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/in-praise-of-vintage-10-classic-tv-shows-where-to-watch-them/

Enjoy!

Jannis said...

My husband watches all that old stuff. I sit and read. Horribly written, directed and sometimes acted too. Magnum and Starsky and Hutch. I saw Mod Squad the other day and Link was wearing some kind of caftan but still chasing the criminal. All those old sitcoms with those horrible laugh tracks and the men running around all buttoned up in suits and ties. So unrealistic and fake. Most did not hold up well but I do enjoy old Match Games with Charles Nelson Reilly. I would love to see old Hollywood Squares with Paul Lynde. I guess to each his own.

RCP said...

Nostalgia can only take you so far: If a show is entertaining I'll watch it no matter when it was produced - if it doesn't hold up, it gets boring really fast.

There are a number of beloved shows that I've ended up fast forwarding through including Laugh-In, The Carol Burnett Show, and the original Saturday Night Live - nostalgia doesn't compensate for weak material - though of course all of those shows still contain timeless gems. Same with I Love Lucy (still love the scene in the Brown Derby and the grape vat).

Moderation is (usually) a good idea, but watch whatever you want to watch as much as you want to watch it, I say.

RCP said...

D. McEwan said...

"He's a case where it has truely rotted his brain. And don't get me started on his Bewitched den."

Jannis said...

"I saw Mod Squad the other day and Link was wearing some kind of caftan but still chasing the criminal.?

Oh man, it feels good to laugh!


Brian said...

But many of the old shows had great theme songs - but so does Cheers. I have been working my way though the Cheers episodes one last time on Netflix streaming. Sometimes I just let the song play, but the I remember "Hey I can fast forward".

Michael said...

Jannis, there's a Hollywood Squares where Peter Marshall says to Paul Lynde, "What would we do without you?" Lynde replies, "You'd just replace me with Charles Nelson Reilly." The inside joke is too good not to mention.

D. McEwan said...

"Joseph Scarbrough said...
I actually contacted the FCC recently (yes, I actually contacted the FCC) and wanted to know if it's supposed to be their job to regulate the kind of content that's broadcasted on television, why is there so much filth and more and more of it on television today?"


So you appointed yourself Culture censor? Hey, you repressed jerk, if you don't like it, don't watch it, but don't try to sabotage entertainment for everyone. One repressed man's "Filth" is another man's light entertainment. Fuck off.

"RCP said...
D. McEwan said...
'He's a case where it has truely rotted his brain. And don't get me started on his Bewitched den.'"


R, I wasn't joking about his Bewitched den. It's real.


Janine said...

If there were good, funny stuff on TV, I'd watch it. I do watch Colbert and the Daily Show. I watch Big Bang Theory when new shows come on, but I don't think it's consistently funny anymore. (My family always wants to know if it was "worth watching" this week.) I'm sorry it's going to go on for so many more years. It's better to leave people laughing and wanting more.

There's just a dearth of good, funny stuff on. So I always watch WKRP. I've gotten out my DVDs and gone through the Golden Girls, Bewitched, Barney Miller, and I'm working on Jeannie. And I watch old Welcome Back, Kotter--because it still makes me laugh.

I've never stopped watching Bob Newhart or Mary Tyler Moore. The yellow light episode of Taxi still makes me laugh.

Sometimes it's Moonlighting or Rockford or Remington Steele. Yeah, I like to catch an old Fantasy Island--it's still as close to Hawaii as I'm going to get. And Love Boat is still fun to make fun of.

If they put funny things or entertaining stuff on TV, I'll watch. But I haven't seen anything funny-FUNNY in a long time. Right now, my best hope is that a line of dialogue from Justified will make me perk up and grin.

I'm with you, Ken. I also quit current radio. I just listen to old stuff. I don't think I'm missing much. And I know radio doesn't miss me.

Barry Traylor said...

I agree with willieb, there are excellent dramas on tv today bt where are the great comedies? Also as far as retro goes some times we just move on in our tastes. When I was a boy (and brother will this ever date me) I loved going to the movies and seeing Abbot and Costello and although there some classic bits in them it is hard to watch the entire film. Perhaps because it would now appear the Bud and Lou did not like one another very much.

Aaron Sheckley said...

A show's age has nothing to do with its relevance. Not long ago I started watching reruns of The Big Valley (a show that, in spite of its age, I'd never seen). I was bowled over by Barbara Stanwyck. Victoria Barkley was as forceful and powerful of a character as you could imagine, and she was being written in the 60's, when a lot of woman on TV were of the June Cleaver variety. She was in charge, no doubt about it, and Stanwyck was totally believable in the role; very much a woman, and very much the one who was running things. A character that well written shouldn't be consigned to the dustbins of TV history; today's writers should be ashamed that the modern version of an empowered woman is Kat Denning talking about her vagina.

Pat Reeder said...

I guess I was lucky to grow up poor, with a family that still had a black and white TV well into the color era. I didn't develop this idiotic prejudice against entertainment from earlier times. Because everything was in black and white, and I lived in the country, far removed from modern trendy things anyway, to me, Three Stooges and Marx Brothers movies from the '30s, Lucy shows from the '50s, "Green Acres" from the '60s, and "Monty Python" and "WKRP" from the '70s were all the same: just shows that made me laugh, not litmus tests for hipness. There aren't many shows for which I have the entire runs on DVD, but the ones I do have are all older shows: "Dick Van Dyke," the Ernie Kovacs box set, Columbo, SCTV, Python, "MASH," and by a weird coincidence, since Amazon just had it on sale, the "I Love Lucy" box set. I can't imagine anyone ever wanting a box set of the entire run of "2 Broke Girls."

I'm pleased to see that this trait has been passed on genetically: I have two nieces in their early 20s. One is a huge Lucy fan, and the other one's favorite singer is Bing Crosby.

BTW, to Brian L., who said, "I used to tell him that I KNOW there were more songs than that in the 60s." I was once music director for a nostalgia rock station in Dallas that had that same problem of repeating a handful of songs over and over. It was the PD made me program everything by computer with tons of restrictions: no repeating the same artist within the hour, no female vocals back-to-back, etc. He also limited the playlist to songs that hit the top 40 during the '50s and '60s. Of course, a lot of dogs hit the charts that you don't want to hear now, and a lot of classic album cuts never charted as singles. By the time the computer factored in all those limitations, it had only a handful of songs that fit all the criteria, and it played them to death. We had 900 songs in the playlist, and 600 might get played once a week while the rest repeated endlessly.

Pat Reeder said...

PS - Just checked my DVD shelf. I also have box sets of "The Addams Family," "Twilight Zone" and the original "Star Trek." Only recent shows I have in their entirely are "House" and for my wife, "Mad Men." So I guess my collection is about 6-1 classic TV to current TV, and half the current TV is a show set in the '60s. Good thing I never take any opinion I read in the NY Times seriously.

Anonymous said...

Del Fidanque, it's good and all, but why would you write a whole play to celebrate that Stallone movie?

Mike said...

How about we flip it around, and just stop making TV shows and movies?

Would your life really be worse off? I submit there are enough mediocre, good and great movies and TV shows to occupy you for the rest of your life.

Disney used to rerelease their movies into theaters every seven years. The Lion King made $100 million in its second run.

MikeN said...

Looking at stores, it appears they are using nostalgia to get DVD sales. They used to be selling The Jeffersons and Diffrent Strokes. Then it was Knight Rider and Duck Tales. Now they are moving a little further forward.

CarolMR said...

Awespishus, I agree with you about "The Virginian." I especially love James Drury and Lee J. Cobb. I started watching this show when I discovered the INSP channel. It's amazing how the writers never mention the Virginian's name and made it seem normal. Aaron Sheckly, I also agree with you about "The Big Valley", also on INSP. Stanwyck was amazing! And the show had great stories. As far as Lucy not being a nice person in real life, I've read several stories where guest stars were interviewed about working with Lucy. Barbara Eden said she could cry when she thinks of Lucy and Desi because they were so good to her when she guest starred. And Bart Braverman, who starred with the late Robert Urich in "Vegas" guest starred on "I Love Lucy" playing a little Italian shoe-shine boy during Lucy's European episodes. He said Lucy and Desi never treated child stars as if they were stupid or incapable. He spoke very highly of both Lucy and Desi.

D. McEwan said...

"Barry Traylor said...
I loved going to the movies and seeing Abbot and Costello and although there some classic bits in them it is hard to watch the entire film. Perhaps because it would now appear the Bud and Lou did not like one another very much."


Barry, I interviewed Bud Abbott on radio back in 1972, in his home. I can assure you that he made clear to me that he loved Lou very much. That Lou eventually came to resent him and left him hurt him very deeply. After Lou's baby son drowned, he changed, which is hardly surprising, and much of his joy in doing comedy went away.

But be assured, the love between them was real, and for Bud at least, never ended.

VP81955 said...

Let's not forget that Lucille Ball (who was on good terms with the lady in my avatar when both were at RKO in 1940) was not just a performer, but a businesswoman, and a pretty darn good one. Robert Osborne, who was part of the Desilu repertory troupe in the late '50s, has always spoken well of her. This is not to say Ball was beyond reproach (in the '60s, she fired and publicly embarrassed Joan Blondell on the set), just that she was a complicated woman with good and bad points.

As for "2 Broke Girls," I've seen snippets of episodes while waiting for the far superior "Mom," and I can't believe how absolutely unfunny it is.

jbryant said...

Clickbait indeed. From the article: "The problem with the ready availability of this old stuff — don’t even get me started on Internet streaming — is that it forces us into a wistful but abstract longing for what was." Yeah, that's quite a "problem." As others have said, it may be a personal problem for those few individuals who actually use the availability of these shows to live in the past, but I can't see how it's a problem for anyone else.

These networks exist because there's an interested demographic, but I doubt their combined ratings amount to all that much. The guy is writing about a literally nonexistent issue.

Personally, I like to mix it up. Most of the series I watch are current, but I always record THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW (without nostalgia, however, since I never before lived in a market that syndicated it) and have lately been on a ROCKFORD FILES binge in the wake of James Garner's death. I love quality entertainment, and couldn't care less if it's new, recent, old or ancient.

But the article is ridiculous, and it was written by someone who doesn't even understand GREEN ACRES. So, grain of salt. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey Tankea- you sound like a real monk-glass hitch! Who are you to say Dick Van Dyke and Andy Griffith's show's were "sexist" (Just HOW were they, genius?) and "not empowering" to women/minorities (as opposed to...what? Gimme a Break???) and "should not be shown (so you're in FAVOR of censorship???)? As for your implied comment re. Cheers, can't we say the same about 227, except with "blacks only"? Do us all a favor and eat a gas-pipe (and get like-minded "thinkers" Al Sharpton and Spike Lee to join ya)!

DwWashburn said...

Concerning music, I have a slightly different take. I don't flip over to today's music because I am sick of 60s music. I have a step daughter living with us and she plays today's music. It just enforces my love of 60s and pre disco 70s music. I listen to it because it is damn good, not because of the nostalgia.

Concerning television, most new programs I watch are documentaries (The Sixties, History Detectives, American Experience). Dramas are full of swearing, blood, and sex. Comedies (and I use the term loosely) are full of dick jokes and . . . well that's about all they're full of. I had a visitor one day ask me why I re-watch old sitcoms. My answer was, why do you listen to a song after you've heard it once? Why do you use an encyclopedia more than once? There is entertainment value in a re-watch as much as there is in a re-listen or a research.

joel65913 said...

I didn't like the tone of his article at all but I would agree that moderation is the key.

Like most I love I Love Lucy but have seen all of them multiple times. If I run across one I particularly enjoyed I'll stop and watch but I don't seek it out.

What I like about the retro channels is the chance to sample different older shows. Either ones I liked long ago, It Takes a Thief is still a lot of fun, or that I had missed in their initial run like The Virginian.

Do I watch every show? Do I watch all the time? Are they all as good as I remember? No. I started laughing during the credits of The Mod Squad and made it about ten minutes in before I had to turn it off. But it's nice to have a variety of choices and some are still quite good. Plus there's the added kick of seeing many now famous actors just starting out, Richard Dreyfuss and Bruce Dern are all over early TV, or classic stars who had moved into television.

If he doesn't want to watch it's as easy as turning the channel or shutting off the TV. But it's insulting and condescending to judge people who find pleasure in watching just because he doesn't.