Thursday, November 8, 2007


I don’t watch TV shows much, mostly just news, documentaries, or movies. But when I woke up in the middle of the night with some shoulder pain friends tell me sounds like “rotary cuff” stuff, to get back to sleep I decided to make up an alphabet list of some favorite TV shows from over the years (many you’ve probably never heard of or don’t remember because you’re too young, so take my word for it).

BIG BEAT when others sued over who invented the term “rock’n’roll” but the man who had more to do with popularizing the music, especially the black creators of it—check out Bo Diddley, Little Richard and Chuck Berry all crediting him in a scene in the documentary Keith Richards did on Berry, HAIL, HAIL, ROCK’N’ROLL—and though it only lasted about a year (1957?) Freed featured a lot of great acts and made a point to have front and center the sexiest girls, but it was the “payola” scandal that brought him down, though he was one of the fairest d.j.s then in terms of introducing new groups of any race so it always seemed to me it was more because us newly minted teenage juvenile delinquents watching the show couldn’t figure out if he was part black or not, and hated white bread Dick Clark and his white bread AMERICAN BANDSTAND)
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (one of those shows that makes me uncomfortable when the characters on it do embarrassing things, so I don’t watch it that often, but when I do I’m impressed that it often addresses sticky issues of race and gender and class and other elemental realities rarely brought up on TV shows)
DEADWOOD (yeah, I’ve been on a few of the shows on this list, but that’s not why I like them, since I’ve been on tons more I would never put on a “favorites” list)
ED SULLIVAN SHOW, THE (not always great but always interesting and sometimes historic, e.g. The Beatles first appearance)
FRANK SINATRA SHOW, THE (this show had two different runs, one in the early 1950s and one in the late ‘50s. The first one didn’t last long, it aired during Sinatra’s troubled times when his star had faded and he was seen more as a has been and joke than the icon he became or the teen idol he’d been, but still, as a kid I watched it every week to hear the man sing, and not only because he was a Jersey boy who gave me hope that I too could transcend my origins without forgetting them, but because I dug his musicianship and that of the guests he had on. The later one everybody loves now, because film clips from it show how spectacular the performances were on that one after he made his comeback and was well on track to becoming the most famous singer, and swinger, the world has ever known)
GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW, THE (I wasn’t entirely crazy about the show, but was about Gracie Allen, who was the funniest comic on TV for my taste as a kid)
JACKIE GLEASON SHOW, THE (“The Honeymooners” was originally a sketch on this variety show that showcased Gleason’s enormous talents, no pun intended) and JOHNNY STACCATO (late 1950s pseudo-crime show with John Cassavettes as a hipster who solves or resolves sticky situations, probably only lasted one season, but I can still picture scenes from it in my mind, it had that kind of impact, because it was the coolest show I ever saw on TV outside of documentaries on jazz greats)
LEONARD BERNSTEIN (I’m not sure what his show was called, but it came from Carnegie Hall and he’d use the New York Philharmonic to sample pieces of classical music as he explained, in a very erudite way, even though meant for kids, what the composer was trying to accomplish and how the instruments were used, etc. I would sit and watch it in black and white, fascinated, after working all afternoon in my old man’s home maintenance business, while my mother yelled for me to come to the kitchen table for dinner and I couldn’t turn it off)
MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN (may be my all time favorite TV show)
OUR MISS BROOKS (I loved Eve Arden’s brand of sarcasm, one of the few comic actors whose use of a writer’s irony didn’t turn me off)
PEE WEE’S PLAYHOUSE (from 1980s downtown punk scene to TV!)
ROOTIE KAZOOTIE (when every other redblooded “American” kid was watching Howdy Doody back in the early 1950s, those of us with a little more edge to our taste, were digging Rootie, with his sideways baseball cap, sort of early wooden Flavor Flave)
SOPRANOS, THE (I thought this show was more flawed than many fans and critics did, but I never doubted its impact and importance, and some of the incredible performances) and THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH STEVE ALLEN (a man I always admired, though some jaded hipsters seemed unimpressed with his piano playing behind Kerouac’s famous appearance reading from ON THE ROAD, Allen was actually a solid piano player and great songwriter, as well as a very funny and intelligent guy who defined late night hip TV before anyone else, he invented it, and when was the last time any other late night TV show had a poet or novelist read for several minutes to the audience on their show live!?)
UNTOUCHABLES, THE (I didn’t really love this show, but the few times I caught it I got that Robert Stack’s weird stiffness and seeming disdain for what he was doing leant it this surreal quality that made it seem kind of German expressionist, if anyone can see what I mean)
VAUGHN MONROE SHOW, THE (bet nobody remembers that one, but he was big in my house as a kid, my older teenage sisters dug him, a 1940s style crooner with big ears, and I dug him too, or at least his voice)
WAGON TRAIN (hey, a Western show with Ward Bond on TV, good enough for me)
XAVIER CUGAT SHOW (another show from the ‘50s that was silly on the surface, but the Latin music wasn’t bad, and the women knew how to keep a viewer engaged, either Carmen Miranda with her comic version of the Latin hottie, or the less talented but much foxier young wife of Cugat who could just stand there and get my attention)
YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS (Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca were the funniest comedy team ever)
ZANE GREY THEATER (what can I say, I always loved Westerns)


Phillipa said...

Another few...

DEAN MARTIN SHOW (Dino in a tux with cigarette and martini was the COOLEST)



SIX FEET UNDER (multi-dimensional likable characters, dysfunction of all brands-- making it easy to identify with one or more), great writing, good acting.)

Again, multi-dimensional characters, good writing, great acting (particularly Andre Braugher)

Lally said...

Yep, I agree with all of those, except maybe THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. which didn't excite me as much as it did my friends at the time.

John said...


Didn't like Kojak? ;}

AlamedaTom said...

Smock smock!

Anonymous said...

Lal--How could you forget to mention all those live drama shows from the 50s? Playhouse 90, Studio One, The Alcoa Hour, The U.S Steel Hour, etc., etc., put on live theater on almost any given night of the week and featured stuff by writers like Gore Vidal. "Marty," for example, was a live TV drama, as was "Requiem For A Heavyweight."
And my own personal candidate for probably Best TV Show Ever was "East Side, West Side," a short-lived series about a New York City social worker, played by George C. Scott.
Your Show Of Shows was a must-see, especially for those hilarious parodies they used to do of foreign films and for Sid Caesar's take-offs on jazz musicians--Progress J. Hornsby, for instance, claimed to have the world's only radar-equipped saxophone: it warned him in case he approached the melody. Nobody could beat that.
Bob Berner