Thursday, June 11, 2015

THE SEVENTIES

The ‘70s was a golden era of TV comedy. With groundbreaking shows like ALL IN THE FAMILY, MASH, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, and THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, American sitcoms were elevated from mindless madcap fare to sophisticated entertainment that explored social and political issues. They didn’t insult the audience’s intelligence; they celebrated it. Not every plot on every show was about “hooking up.” And they were extremely FUNNY.
CNN premiers a new documentary series tonight at 9:00 (unless another plane disappears or there’s a freak snowstorm in New York requiring the Blizzard Mobile to reappear) called THE SEVENTIES. It’s produced by the same team that did THE SIXTIES documentary series last year for CNN, which was truly exceptional.

Tonight’s debut installment is on television. Not only did we have remarkable sitcoms, but SNL came out of that era, as did the insane “Family Hour,” SESAME STREET, Watergate and actual “news” reporting, the heyday of late night talk shows, the last gasp of variety shows, hot bad ass women like CHARLIES ANGELS and POLICE WOMAN, hard hitting dramas that today look ridiculous (like KOJAK), and for you Marvel fans, THE INCREDIBLE HULK.

I was interviewed for tonight's show and am told I made the cut. We’ll see. So far I saw a promo and I was on it for a couple of seconds but they listed me as “Ken Levine – writer of THE JEFFERSONS.” Gee, of all my credits, that’s hardly the one I would have singled out (I also wrote for JOE & SONS y'know). I talked a lot about MASH so maybe that’s in the show with me tied to that series. One can only hope. 

Actually, I was a little miffed. When they told me the program was THE SEVENTIES and they wanted to interview me as “an expert” I just naturally assumed it was for the Sexual Revolution chapter.

But me aside, it figures to be a compelling series. Students of television and aspiring comedy writers need to familiarize yourselves with the ‘70s. This is a great way of doing it. See you again in THE EIGHTIES (where hopefully I’ll be tagged for CHEERS and not AfterMASH).

42 comments:

Oat Willie said...

Knowing CNN, I don't expect anything of value. Younger generations have already been filled with fairy tales of the 70s as a nonstop sex and drugs orgy which was only ended by the cleansing storm of St Ronald in 1980. Who needs stock footage of leisure suits interrupted by melty cheese commercials? For the record, "Three's Company" was the cleanest, smarmiest show on TV.

Brian Phillips said...

Small note: Sesame Street certainly was popular during the seventies, but it started in 1969.

Carol said...

And Saturday morning shows. Those were the BEST in the 70's. We didn't just have cartoons. We had Land of the Lost, and Kraft Superstar Power Hour and those super drug-induced shows like HR Puffinstuff. (Which maybe was made in the 60's but I remember it from the 70s) Electro Woman and Dyno Girl was my favorite after Land of the Lost.

And the Brady Bunch. I don't have any recollection of watching it while it was actually airing, but it was pretty much SOP to watch it on the UHF channel every darn day. Although I watched it mostly because it came on after the Monkees and before dinner time.

blinky said...

The Seventies was also when Star Trek became a huge hit in syndication. Apparently I was the only person who watched the original run on NBC in the Sixties even after they ran out of money and had to repurpose old western sets and Gorn costumes.

Jim S said...

Ken, I would pay good money to see you and Dr. Ruth standing next to each other as sex experts. But you left out "Barney Miller."

Talk about a 1970s show. It was a funny, touching tone poem to New York City in that decade. I suspect the 28 year olds who complain about the disneyifciation of the City would be quite surprised about the state of the City when it was more "authentic."

MikeK.Pa. said...

Some of the worst music (disco) and clothes (leisure suits and platform heels) were unleashed on us during 70s.

tavm said...

When I think of '70s TV, I think lots of Aaron Spelling shows. Starting with '60s leftover "The Mod Squad" than "The Rookies" which had Kate Jackson who then went on to "Charlie's Angels". Then there's also "The Love Boat", "Fantasy Island" and I guess that was all for that decade. Oh, and also Quinn Martin who always had the same announcer intoning the beginning credits whether it was "Cannon", "The Streets of San Franciso", or "Barnaby Jones"...

Anonymous said...

While Norman Lear and MTM Enterprises dominated TV comedy during that decade, I always also think of it as Garry Marshall's because of "The Odd Couple", "Laverne & Shriley", "Mork & Mindy", and, of course, "Happy Days". That was his heyday...

tavm said...

Okay, that Anonymous comment was also mine but I forgot to ID myself. Sorry.

Kosmo13 said...

The 1970's was the decade of Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak.

Anonymous said...

As a high school student in the early 70s, I stayed home on Saturday nights to watch the "Must See TV" of my generation. MTM, All in the Family, and the Queen, The Carol Burnett Show.

Then I would go out & party. :-)

Pam, St. Louis

Diane D. said...

Social and political issues were explored in the 1970 sitcoms, but I would never have described them as doing it in a sophisticated way that celebrated intelligence, especially shows like ALL IN THE FAMILY. IMHO it was done in such a clumsy way that I cringed. I'm not speaking about clumsy by today's sensibilities, but even when they originally aired. Compare them with how CHEERS deals with the gay issue in the episode where Sam's old baseball buddy comes out. We see Sam go from completely horrified to a realization that he has been wrong in his attitude. He becomes supportive and even sets an example for the bigots in the bar (with the help of Diane, of course). And it is done with believability and even elegance. I would never have believed that even the most talented writers, directors, show runners, and actors could have pulled off such a feat in 24 minutes. That was in the first year of Cheers, I think, so we were barely out of the 70's, but we were light years from the clumsy, awkward manner in which social issues were dealt with in most of the 1970s shows.

michael said...

One of my favorite things about these pop culture shows is the trivia they get wrong. You mentioned POLICE WOMAN. Name the first TV series to be about a policewoman.
It was syndicated TV series DECOY with Beverly Garland in the mid-fifties. Name the first network TV series to be about a policewoman. Even PBS got this wrong. It was GET CHRISTIE LOVE with Teresa Graves on ABC. It aired on September 11, 1974 while POLICE WOMAN first aired two days later on NBC. POLICE WOMAN was the first network TV series to about a policewoman played by a blonde sexy actress who knew the Rat Pack - which is probably a more relevant bit of trivia for the 70s than what was the first network TV series about a policewoman

Scott Cason said...

The 70's was the last great decade for TV (and radio for that matter). Just set the DVR to record it.

Igor said...

Ken, could you please start including spit-take trigger warnings? I mean, for things such as -

"But me aside,..."

Clean-up on monitor 2.

jcs said...

I'm sure it'll be DYN-O-MITE.

McAlvie said...

Ah, the seventies.

Actually, I'm glad, Ken, that you brought up the great sitcom offerings. That and good music are about the only good things to come out of that decade. So, of course, now that 70s nostalgia has taken hold, the only things they've brought back are the god-awful colors. Lime green and harvest gold were NEVER a good idea, which is why that trend only lasted, thank God, for a decade. Of course, the people who are nostalgic for that decor didn't actually live through it.

Diane D. said...

To Igor
That was hilarious!!

Stephen Messer said...

Enjoyed The Sixties - despite Tom Hanks' thoughts on the significance of the Beatles first appearance on Sullivan. He recalled that upon seeing that episode he remarked aloud that Music History had been changed forever. Great quote. Especially considering that in February of 1964 Hanks was a third grader. I guess that is why he became exec producer of this series, so prescient was he at age 7.

Ken Levine said...

Thank you Diane D. David Isaacs and I wrote that particular episode of CHEERS.

Diane D. said...

To Ken Levine
You are more than welcome. You and David Isaacs wrote most of my favorite episodes of CHEERS, and that one was truly great!

Gary West said...

The 1970's... Baby Boomers changed the paradigm: FM radio takes hold, rock 'n roll is big, big business with supergroups (Grand Funk/Zeppelin) and mega concerts/album sales... color-TV becomes household mainstream... Tandy brings the world of PC into the home... Module telephone jacks begin to show-up in homes (this was a bigger deal then you might first think)... Atari makes home-gaming a pop phenom... Teens now have access to stereos... TV - Norman Lear sitcoms, "Movies-Of-The-Week"/Aaron Spelling and third dog ABC-TV finally becomes #1. And, we had a President and Vice President who - were not elected. The two stand-out TV shows of the decade - "All In The Family" and "MASH." I don't think anything else came close.

Paul said...

I loved the (very short-lived) "Joe and Sons." Didn't know you wrote it. Not "Cheers" or "Frasier," but not a bad little sitcom.

John Hammes said...

Veterans of the golden age of radio - Himan Brown, Fletcher Markle, Elliott Lewis, among others - found themselves busy in the '70s. Of all decades.

CBS Radio Mystery Theater, Sears Radio Theater, General Mills Radio Adventure Theater (Saturday/Sunday afternoon stories for the kids) met with surprising and probably unexpected success. It was certainly a revelation to this listener (no doubt many other "kids" of the era) that radio could be about funny, adventurous, scary stories, not just music, news/talk, and sports (which, come to think of it, might also sometimes be classified as funny, adventurous, and scary?). Sometimes campy and naturally self descriptive ("Sherlock, look out - he has a gun!"), still, fun stuff.

Clearly, there could never have been another golden age of radio, but '70s listeners certainly enjoyed something of a silver age. Besides, CBSRMT spead out the classic and original scary stories throughout the year - not just around Halloween - and at the time, nobody did scary better, and no kid could ever forget!

Tim B. said...

Coincidentally, my Netflix peregrinations got me to see that Cheers episode just the other night. (I'm glad that Cheers and MASH are now on streaming there! Alternating those with some other great shows.) I thought he episode was great, too.

Sometimes you just need to decide what sort of world you want to live in, and make it so. It was great seeing Sam work through that decision.

Stoney said...

There will likely be a lot said about what a comedy landmark "Saturday Night Live" was at the time. But I still contend that the more revolutionary show was "Monty Python's Flying Circus" which started making it's way onto American TV two years before SNL. Probably will not get mentioned because it was an import and only of cult status back then.

Things I expect to see:

Billie Jean King vs Bobby Riggs
Archie Bunker to Sammy Davis Jr. - "Do you take cream & sugar in your eye?"
Maude ponders an abortion
Radar tells everyone in the O.R about Henry
Richard Nixon - "I shall resign..."
Ted Baxter - "Chuckles died...a broken man."
Kojack - "Who Loves you baby?"
Jim MacKay at the Munich Olympics

Things I expect to be overlooked:

The Gong Show
SCTV
Beacon Hill (One of the first "Mature Subject Matter" shows)
Chico And The Man (and how they tried to keep going after Freddie)
Night Gallery

Question; if this show includes Bruce Jenner highlights from '76 would that be kinda gratuitous?



If they include any Bruce Jenner h

Stoney said...

Don't know about a missing plane or a freak snowstorm but if anything is likely to pre-empt this show it would be the law catching up with the two New York escapees and an ensuing standoff.

VP81955 said...

With no Dodgers game tonight and the Nats in Milwaukee (5 p.m. PT start), I should be able to watch the West Coast prime-time rebroadcast.

Scott O. said...

"groundbreaking shows like ALL IN THE FAMILY, MASH, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, and THE BOB NEWHART SHOW"

Yea. And my favorite one of those groundbreaking shows never won one f*cking Emmy.

Andrew said...

Columbo.

Pat Reeder said...

Amen to Andrew. My wife and I still love "Columbo." We have the complete series on DVD and just watched the first episode last weekend (because there was NOTHING on broadcast or cable TV on a Saturday as good as the first episode of "Columbo" -- hell, these days, there never is).

Many people don't realize this, but "Columbo" actually came out of the '60s. The series got rolling in 1971, but his debut was in the TV movie "Prescription Murder" (the one we just watched), which aired in 1968. It's interesting to see how fully-formed the character already was, even then. Some of his quirks, like the dog and the car, were still to come, and his haircut was a bit too neat (ironic that the only person who had a neat haircut in the 1960s was Columbo), but otherwise, Falk and the writers had him down from day one.

As for the other shows, I'm catching up with a lot of them on outlets like ME TV and Antenna TV. Surprisingly, I think "Maude" holds up better than "All In The Family." And "The Bob Newhart Show" is still timelessly great. We have tickets to see Bob live in July, and it's been circled on my calendar for six months. I am happy that even at this stage of his career, you have to buy tickets that far in advance for good seats to see an 85-year-old comic having a phone conversation with himself, particularly when there are so many other 85-year-olds doing that for free.

Oat Willie said...

Wasn't Katey Sagal a secretary on that first Columbo?

Anonymous said...

Trying to think of the great ones back in the day...

Columbo was a big deal in it's heyday. Barretta was very popular. Some of it seemed improvised, because some of it was. Kung Fu was ground-breaking. That was the number 1 show amongst all my friends. Especially the first couple of seasons. We also didn't miss Night Gallery. Carson ruled. Us kids liked Dick Cavette. To us, Monty Python took all the import out of Saturday Night Live. No comparison. And Jews invented the Black sitcom. Dyn-O-Mite!

National Lampoon was the only satirical magazine worth reading, and Animal House was it's swan song. Still a great funny movie, expertly directed by John Landis.

The early 70's was also the springtime of some of the most talented singer/songwriters in decades, especially the Laurel Canyon crowd, serving as the jet fuel for FM radio. So much talent, boomers became spoiled. We didn't know it couldn't go on.

-Boomer Bill

Tor Hershman said...

Frist CNN program I have ever watched, fine job.
You ani't nearly as old as I thought you were.

Hamid said...

I'll never forget and will check back often.

normadesmond said...

ken, you did a dandy job!

Richard John Marcej said...

Hey Ken, not sure if you’d consider this a Friday Question, but….

After watching Part one of CNN’s Seventies show tonight and reading your blog, that got me thinking of the subject of “The Family Hour”. I was a teenager in most of the 70’s so I of course looked down upon any such regulating, of anything, especially TV and the idea of Family Friendly Fare for an hour every evening on prime time seemed prudish to me.

in the years since though, when thinking of this subject I’ve come from it from a different perspective. In the past few decades the networks (ABC, CBS & NBC) have missed out on a lot of excellent shows (The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, etc…) because they didn’t have the freedom that the premium channels can give.

-BUT- what if back in the 70’s the Networks had approached the FCC and their “Family Hour” demand from a different angle. What if they said, OK, we’ll give you that first hour. That all shows from 8-9 PM have to be accessible to people of ALL ages. (like G movies)

In order for us to comply to that though, you have to give us the 9-10PM hour to show programming that is a bit more mature. In that hour, young children should ONLY watch those shows with a parent or guardian. (like PG/ PG-13 movies)

Which then would give us the 10-11 hour. In this hour the networks could air more mature, edgy programming (like R movies). Maybe those shows that HBO, Showtime, etc…got would still avoid the networks, but it could have given us some excellent programming over the last 30, 40 years.

I guess what I’m longwindedly saying is, if the networks had given up that hour each night to the FCC we could have gotten some great two hours of shows every night. (and hell, it might have made the networks more relevant today.)

Mike said...

@Richard John Marcej: You're suggesting a 9pm watershed, which is the system the UK has always used. But it's not the FCC that drives this, it's complaints directly from the viewers, which makes American television so bland.

David in Cincinnati said...

Hmmm, you gave me an idea for a sure-fire hit: "AfterCHEERS"!

norm said...

What no ---- WKRP???

tavm said...

"Baby, if you've ever wondered
Wondered whatever became of me
I'm living on the air in Cincinnati
Cincinnati, WKRP
Got tired of just packing and unpacking
Town to town, up and down the aisle
Baby, you and me were never meant to be
Just maybe think of me once in a while
I'm at WKRP in Cincinnati"

Unknown said...

Found an old episode on a sports channel I didn't know I had, but I enjoyed "Battle of the Network Stars"...at the time. Seeing Ed Asner in a tank top now is horrifying. Other shows not mentioned that I see again on MeTV, Six Million Dollar Man which taught every kid to go "nenene nenneee" when they jump.
Friday question, why don't they do Battle of Network Stars (of course, now it would be BoTNS) now? Cast members now getting $800K per episode?