Monday, September 23, 2013

ONWARD: SEVENTIES SITCOMS INTO THE EIGHTIES PLUS THE BEGINNINGS OF RETRO



It is difficult to imagine now how the sitcoms that defined the seventies ethos lasted well into the eighties.  In this chapter, I will explore how they continued on.  I will also touch on the re-emergence of the sixties sitcoms as nostalgia. In the next chapter, I will discuss the new sitcoms of the eighties.

The reason we saw the continuation of shows that became irrelevant was due to continuing high ratings.  CBS had a powerhouse Sunday night lineup anchored by the remnants of the Norman Lear universe as well as M*A*S*H on Monday night which became even more popular if less irreverent until it's blockbuster feature-length finale.  ABC's Tuesday night lineup remained popular despite the lack of material and the devolution of the characters into stock sitcom hell.  NBC started the 80's sitcom revival with it's family-oriented "Diff'rent Strokes" universe until the critical favorite "Taxi" moves to the network from ABC to usher in a new group from a Boston sports pub.

The most interesting "continuation" involved psychiatrist Bob Hartley.  Bob Newhart's signature series ended it's run in 1978.  But he returned with his droll sense of humor in 1982 with "Newhart" on CBS as Dick Loudon, a self-help author who runs an historic inn in Vermont.  Once again, he was surrounded by a beautiful wife (Mary Frann) and a cast of loonies:  Tom Poston as the bumbling handyman; Julia Duffy as the spoiled housekeeper; Peter Scolari as her yuppie boyfriend (80's alert!); and William Sanderson leading a trio of backwoods hillbillies--Larry, Darryll and Darryll.  The comedy was sophisticated wacky--like the original--but the series long run (eight years) led to predictable character jokes and contributed in a strange way to the re-ruralization of CBS.  The ratings were decent on Monday nights until the end.  And that's where things get crazy.

The amazing finale in 1990 is why "Newhart" is actually an extension of a seventies classic.  As Dick gets hit in the head with a golf ball hit by some Chinese investors who are buying the inn.  When he wakes up, he is in bed with....Emily!  In Chicago.  And Bob Hartley stammers out the incredible (eight-year) dream he just had.  Brilliant.

RUNNING OUT OF TIME.

Following are synopses of the remaining burnouts of the seventies sitcoms as they leeched into the eighties.  Surprisingly, many maintained high ratings until mid-decade.  In alphabetical order:

Alice (CBS).  This is the strangest candidate for longevity into the eighties.  Flo’s replacement, Belle (Diane Ladd) leaves in 1981 to be replaced by Celia Weston’s Jo-Lene, an even more inane sassy southerner. The show continued with the
Jolene Too.
premise of Alice, Vera and Jolene teaming with Mel in slapstick misadventures and aiding overly contrived “musical and comedy” celebrity has-been cameos.  Martha Raye appeared too many times as Mel’s mom.  Doris Roberts appeared some as Alice’s mom.  Vera’s marriage with a mild cop was a highlight. Alice gets a singing gig in Nashville.  Finally, Mel sells the diner and gives the waitresses huge bonuses.  With the exception of one season, the show was comfortably ensconced in the CBS Sunday night schedule throughout the early 80’s.   With Linda Lavin’s real-life husband--country singer Kip Niven--playing her new suitor and a guest appearance from “Boss Hogg” (Dukes of Hazzard), it was obvious that the series was a corn-ponent of the rural renewal. Eighties alert:  Mel throws a group of break dancers out of the diner. 
Flo-Troop
Flo (CBS) continued for a less successful second and final season due to a time slot change.  Other than a Thanksgiving guest shot by Forrest Tucker as Flo’s estranged (go figure) dad, nothing much happened and Flo had nowhere else to go.

Archie Bunker’s Place (CBS).  The flagship show on Sunday night saw the slow and uncelebrated demise of Carroll O’Connor’s Bunker.  Jean Stapleton bowed out completely in 1980 as her much-loved Edith died leaving Archie to mourn and eventually date.  O’Connor actually allows Bunker to break down in a dramatic emotionally-purging scene.  He then becomes a “house mother” when another niece, Billie, comes to live him.  And he transitions
Goodbye, Edith
into a champion of racial harmony when he defends his new black housekeeper from injustices.  Martin Balsam leaves after the second season to be replaced by another Jewish business manager played by child actor Barry Gordon.  His character has an ongoing relationship with Billie.  Younger niece Stephanie starts liking boys and trying to train in song and dance.  Don Rickles made a rare sitcom appearance in one episode as a boarder at Archie’s house.

Sally Struthers returns in two episodes with son Joey after she leaves Mike who has run away with a student.  In the fall of 1982, she gets her own series, Gloria, where the “little goil” moves to the country to become a veterinarian’s
Mourning Gloria
assistant.  It does well in the ratings (following Archie on Sunday nights) but by this time CBS decided to do away with all things Bunker.  O’Connor was upset at the sudden cancellation with no chance for closure.  Although the series continued to court controversial subjects, the execution was ham-handed and uneven as Archie softened up and lost his bite amidst a new ethnic mix and teenage girls--leading to a loss of satire.  The show  had become, to a degree, a Queens Mayberry.

Barney Miller (ABC).  The final two seasons, although well-written and well-acted, were showing signs of repetition and plot re-treads.  The squadroom became a homicide-only unit for a while leading to grittier situations. Luger appeared more as he dealt with the travails of a mail-order bride.  Harris fought a plagiarism lawsuit over his book and even directed a porn film in one episode (as a cover).  The only new cop introduced was Paul Leiber as Dorsey.  He didn’t last long as he seemed like a laconic version of Deitrich with a more conspiratorial bent.  At series end, Barney passes up his long-awaited for promotion and, in a plot twist that seemed more appropriate for “Alice,” the station house is torn down due to the discovery of Native-American artifacts and the precinct is thusly relocated leading to the dissolution of the unit and a dignified farewell episode honoring the series long run.

“Barney Miller” would finally be awarded the Best Comedy Series Emmy in its final year.  A deserved honor.

Benson (ABC).  This show becomes a Friday night staple for six more years so it’s more of an eighties show than a seventies show.  And there is the requisite break-dancing episode!  The 1980 season saw three appearances by young stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld as the wisecracking driver for the governor.  He didn’t fit in with the show.  Makes
Benson and Seinfeld
perfect sense as the series fell into the silly plot device trap what with the numerous cameo-filled murder mystery episodes.  Politics was satired to a degree as Benson dates a congresswoman and is promoted to State Budget Director, then to Lieutenant Governor and eventually even runs against the governor for the main office ending in a cliffhanger--apropos of it’s parent show “Soap.”  Speaking of “Soap” the ghost of Jessica Tate appears in the third season, possibly wrapping up an unresolved story thread from that series (see below). 

After five season, Robert Guillame won his second Emmy, this time for lead actor in “Benson.”

Diff’rent Strokes (NBC/ABC).  Much like “Benson” this series became known more as an eighties sitcom, lasting until 1986.  There were two  housekeepers replacing Mrs. Garrett (see “Facts of Life” below).  Drummond’s Aunt Sophia (Dodie Goodman) would try to find him a wife and he ended up marrying a woman played by Dixie Carter.  When NBC gave up on the show and ABC picked it up for a final tired season, Carter gladly left for “Designing Women” and was replaced by Mary Ann Mobley (who ironically played a date of Drummond’s in the first season).  Poor Dana Plato started having substance abuse problems by the sixth season and her appearances were limited after the producers decided not to incorporate her pregnancy into a storyline.  Plato eventually committed suicide after a life of drugs and pornography.  Todd Bridges as Willis had a post-show life of cocaine abuse and attempted murder but redeemed himself in the nineties.  The recently departed Coleman, whose Arnold character had a number of young friends for misadventures--with Willis becoming less relevant--had a life that parodied his own sad celebrity.

So it is interesting that “Diff’rent Strokes” ushered in the “very special episode” concept.  Whereas, Lear would deal with controversial topics in the seventies within his character’s lives-- attempting valiantly to keep the humor intact-- this new trend tended to over dramatise the situation and eventually
break the third wall in  sermonizing sap-fests that actually became a staple trait of family sitcoms for a decade or so.  There were episodes dealing with bulimia and epilepsy.  In one episode Arnold and Kimberly get kidnapped by a man who has an intention of raping her, with Conrad Bain, stepping out of character, giving information regarding teen runaways.  Nancy Reagan topped this when she co-opted
Just Say What?
one episode to promote her “Just Say No” anti-drug agenda.  And the most damning of all was the two part episode where Gordon Jump plays a pedophile who is thwarted in his attempts to molest Arnold and his friend.  And it didn’t stop there--

Facts of Life (NBC).  The head brass at NBC couldn’t figure out how this “Diff’rent Strokes” spin-off could outlast it’s parent show by two years into (gulp) 1988.  The format changed in the fall of 1980 and the basic cast remained the same.  With all of the girl characters ensembled in the initial
Jo and George: Mullett wars
series tryout  blending together into a wasp-ish mass, it was
decided to pare the show down to Blair, Tootie, and Natalie.  Nancy McKeon was added as Jo, the streetwise one--replacing three or four entitled debutantes.  That provided plenty of comic contrast to the spoiled Blair.  I won’t bother to enumerate the “very special episodes” but the whole series was practically a very long very special episode.  The girls eventually graduate and, in true sitcom form, they run a sweet shop together with Mrs. Garrett . When that burns down, they run a curio shop.  Charlotte Rae leaves the show and in an effort to keep the decently rated sitcom afloat, Cloris Leachman is brought in as the girl’s new moral leader. 

Some trivia: It turns out that budding stand-up Natalie lost her
Acts of Life
virginity first because Lisa Whelchel (Blair) refused to appear in the episode due to her strong religious beliefs.  Geri Jewell, an actual stand-up comedian with cerebral palsy played a semi-regular part as Blair’s cousin….the first regular character portrayed with the condition on the sitcom.  Jami Gertz was Boots St. Clare (not that significant, but it’s a great name) and George Clooney was a regular for a year.  Even Crispin Glover showed up.

Happy Days (ABC).  The final four seasons of this show took place around the early sixties.  It doesn’t really matter though.  We could call it “Fonzie Knows Best.”  By the final season, the celebrated hood was questioning his rebelliousness and even reverted back to his white jacket in protest of his insecurity.  Richie was off to Alaska on military duty now so
From "Heyy" to "Awww"
Fonz was the main guy.  He became a teacher at Jefferson High just to prove what a “square” he was now.  He was still co-owner of the newly remodeled “Arnolds.”  He found the love of his life, a divorcee (Linda Purl) with a young daughter (Heather O’Rourke---“they’re here!!)  and it ended right before he was able to adopt his ‘little brother” in the final episode.  Richie’s new wife Lori-Beth couldn’t live in Alaska, but she returned from a visit with child.  Ron Howard would appear in two episodes the final season having completed his duty and decides he wants to be a Hollywood screenwriter.  So against his parent’s wishes, off he goes to LaLa Land.  Al marries Chachi’s mother (Ellen Travolta) and Pat Morita returns for the final two years as, you guessed it, Arnold!  Most of the hubbub in the final years involved Joannie and Chachi with their on-again, off-again romance and their musical careers.  At one point they spun-off with Al and his new bride in the musically-tinged cringe-inducing “Joannie Loves Chachi” based in Chicago.  It started out strong but fizzled out in it’s second season, leaving the curiously odd couple to return to Milwaukee with a wedding to mark the series finale and a return of all cast members.  Howard, Marion and Potsie would remain through all seasons. 

As for the new characters, Ted McGinley (“Married…with Children”) took over Richie’s duties as Roger, the straight-laced counterpart to the now-tame Fonzie.  He played Marion’s nephew who moves in with the Cunninghams and ends up teaching at Jefferson with Fonzie.  Roger’s tough younger brother Flip arrived to add some rebelliousness to the show now that Fonzie and Chachi have been effectively neutered.  Phil Silver’s daughter Cathy played the previously unseen Jenny Piccollo (Joannie’s nasty friend)--the sitcom
Fonzie Vs. Forrest Gump
legend himself made a guest appearance--and Crystal Bernard (“Wings”) was brought in to fill the Joannie/Chachi gap as KC, the Cunningham’s niece from Texas who also moved in with Mr. and Mrs. C.   But when future two time Oscar winner Tom Hanks arrives to take out Fonzie in a karate match and loses, you know that it will still take a lot to take down Fonzie.

House Calls  (CBS).  This series only lasted two seasons into the eighties in a rather unremarkable fashion.  Buoyed by it’s post-M*A*S*H time slot, the series garnered some headlines when star Lynn Redgrave was supposedly fired at the start of the third season for breastfeeding her baby on the set.  She was replaced by Sharon Gless (“Cagney and Lacey”) but other than one episode dealing with medical marijuana, the series was gone soon without much controversy.

The Jeffersons (CBS).  It is astounding to think this show went on another five years with high ratings.  It basically tent poled the successful Sunday night lineup until 1985.  A review of the story lines indicates more of the same and some retreads.  Basically, George and his money were the stars of the show (even Donald Trump made some appearances.)  George and Tom Willis became Laurel and Hardy.  Louis and Helen Willis teamed up at the Help Center.  Lionel and Jenny (pretty much absent for the last couple of seasons) had marital difficulties, moved to Japan and returned to announce their separation.  (Jenny hung around more at the end with little Jessica).  Paul Benjamin left the series for awhile but returned as Bentley for the final season.  Charlie the bartender and Ralph the doorman had a few featured episodes.  And Florence with her gospel singing took center stage.

Checking Out
Florence had a spin off series late in the 1980 season, “Checking In”  where she worked for a hotel with Larry Linville (Frank Burns of “M*A*S*H”) as her manager.  She ended up back on “The Jeffersons” the next season.  There were a few shows dealing with the topicality inherent in race relations but the silliness overtook everything with many episodes being costumed “dream” sequences, celebrity cameos--Sammy Davis Jr. played himself in a wacky episode.  Spoofs on other TV shows such as a “Mission Impossible”spoof reminiscent of the Sanford’s
Sammy and Weezy
Hawaiian escapade.  And yes, there was a Hawaiian episode  where Tom and George get lost in a wayward boat. And of course, the “murder on a train” show.  But the show was ignominiously dumped without the cast’s knowledge after the “let’s put on a show” episode and George and Tom seeing how many times they could ride an elevator up and down.  So much for “Movin’ On Up.”

The show, never receiving much Emmy attention, won an award for star Isabel Sanford as best actress in 1981.  Acting opposite scene stealer Sherman Hemsley had to pay off somehow.

Laverne and Shirley (ABC).  The girls were back in their Tuesday time slot and back in the ratings after their 1979 scheduling fiasco.  In what was basically a “Lucy” move to
"Way Out" West
justify lots of guest stars in lieu of good scripts, the whole crew pick up and move to Burbank.  Laverne and Shirley try to get into movies--they work in a department store to get by--couldn’t they have done that in Milwaukee?, Frank and Edna run a cowboy-themed barbecue joint (?), Carmine tries to make it big and who knows why Lenny and Squiggy joined them.  Leslie Easterbrook plays their neighbor, an egocentric aspiring actress and Ed Marinaro played stunt man Sonny the first season.  Edna silently leaves during the 1981 season.  Due to contract disputes and a pregnancy, Cindy Williams left the show in the final season--Shirley gets pregnant and married to a soldier--leading to a show that should have been called “Laverne.” 

The final season just became “The Penny Marshall Show”with Laverne getting in crazy situations sans her old roommate.  In keeping with the sixties time setting during these final years, her exploits involved becoming a Playboy Bunny, robbing a bank with a gang of radicals leading to a death sentence, and joining a convent with nuns.  Guest stars were the focus
Princess Lea in Wonderland
though.  Time-appropriate cameos by Tab Hunter, Joey Heatherton and Adam West were mixed up with guest appearances by the who’s who of the new Hollywood: Jeff Goldblum, Anjelica Huston, Harry Dean Stanton, Carrie Fisher, Laraine Newman, Carol Kane, , Louise Lasser,  and Jay Leno.  The set must have just been a big party because there was not much of draw to be involved quality-wise.  Penny Marshall wisely turned down an offer to continue into 1968.

M*A*S*H (CBS).  “M*A*S*H” remained one of the highest rated and celebrated episodic series all the way through it’s record-setting two and a half hour finale in the spring of 1983.  Co-star Harry Morgan admitted that by 1980 the seams were showing what with the Korean War now heading into it’s eighth year and plot lines hard to come by.  But audiences didn’t care.  The laughs were more subdued as Alan Alda’s creative team headed by Burt Metcalfe allowed for a little of the old wackiness amidst the high drama.  But for the most part “M*A*S*H” became more of pedestrian ensemble piece-- albeit critically acclaimed-- preaching the horrors of war.  The series was oft-nominated for directing and writing--many times the duties were done by the stars themselves--especially Alda and even Morgan and Jamie Farr.  Two of the more unusual episodes in the final years involved a ghost only seen by Klinger traveling through the 4077th and another episode having Hawkeye writing his will.  Interesting guest stars in this time frame include Lawrence Fishburne, Patrick Swayze, Andrew Dice Clay, Craig Wasson and Joe Pantoliono.


The finale movie, up until 2010 the highest rated single television event, was an exercise in Bergman-esque
Eleven Year War
gamesmanship.  The war comes to an end and everyone goes home, but not before Hawkeye has a nervous breakdown.  In the fall of 1983, some of the characters continued in “AfterM*A*S*H” where Potter is chief surgeon at a veteran’s hospital back home in Missouri.  He is joined by Klinger (now married to a Korean woman) and Father Mulcahey (with hearing loss from the final episode).  The series had a strong first season but
Aftermash
was moved from Monday night in the second year leading to an early cancellation.  Although Larry Gelbart returned to write a few episodes, it was time to go.  Even Garry Burghoff appeared as “Radar” leading to a failed pilot called “W*A*L*T*E*R.” where the former camp clerk is a cop.

Although the series was heavily nominated in it’s final seasons, it only captured two Emmy awards-- for acting --between 1980 and 1983:  Alan Alda and Loretta Swit.

Mork and Mindy (ABC).  After the overwhelming cast explosion during the last low-rated season, ABC decided to basically keep them and just feature them sporadically as well as bringing Mindy’s dad back as a regular.  But they still
Winters Hatching
decided to add a best friend for Mindy who now works at a TV station as a reporter.  That leads to drunk stand up comedian Foster Brooks being brought in as her boss.  Mork works in a day care center leading to more kid characters including Corey Feldman.  Struggling, the series returned for a fourth season, probably due to Robin William’s star status.  And a lot happens:  Mork marries Mindy and takes her to Ork.  Mork gets pregnant and lays an egg.  Born is Mearth played by Jonathan Winters (Robin Williams comic inspiration)--babies age backward on Ork.  Having Williams comic inspiration on the set led to even more improv-style humor.  There were lots of aliens showing up this final year
Star Trek: The Next Generation?
(John Larroquette played one) and even a cameo by William
Shatner as himself giving the show even more cheesy sci-fi credibility.  Williams himself even cameo'd as himself, the comedican, who meets lookalike Mork.Probably the most bizarre event took place when Shelly Fabares--already in eighteen sitcoms--appears as Mindy’s dad’s new wife.  The show ended with an episode directed by Williams himself where Mork proves to Orson that he must stay with Mindy on earth.  Then he went on to become, well, Robin Williams I guess.

One Day at a Time (CBS).  The final four seasons sort of had the f eel of “My Three Sons.”  In other words, there were marriages and kids and breakups and family additions of all kinds.  The series stayed highly rated on the Sunday night lineup but faltered in it’s final year.  What happened?  This has to be done chronologically:
Season one:  Ann decides to form her own ad agency with Nick,  a divorced graphic artist she met (Ron Rifkin).  He has a son Alex (Glen Scarpelli).  Barbara decides to drop out of college and get a job.  Ann and Nick hook up.
Season two:  Nick dies in an auto accident so Alex becomes the defacto son in the family.  Julie shows up without Max and announces she is pregnant and leaving Max.  It turns out Julie had the affair, not Max.  They move in with Ann.  Barbara starts dating Mark (Boyd Gaines), a dental student.  Ann goes into business with her old nemesis, Francine (Shelly Fabares).
Season three:  Barbara and Mark get married.  Julie has little baby Annie.  Ann starts dating Mark’s dad Sam (Howard Hesseman).  Everyone (including Mama Romano) end up moving in  with Ann.  Ann marries Sam.
Season Four:  Ann adjusts to a new marriage.  Barbara also adjusts to marriage as Mark opens a practice.  Everyone babysits baby Annie.  Alex dates.  Barbara considers adoption.  There may be sparks between Max and Barbara.  Whew. It all ended with Ann moving to London with her agency.

Nanette Fabray as Ann’s mother and Shelly Fabares as Francine played regular roles these final years.  Mackenzie Phillips was in and out of rehab so the character of Julie
appeared sporadically to leave her husband, give birth and desert her husband.  She wasn’t around at the end of the run.  (80’s alert:  Alex gets hooked on video games).
As for Schneider, he was basically a part of the family:  he fell for a younger woman, experienced hearing loss, and spent fatherly time with Alex.  The final episode was actually a
possible spin off for Pat Harrington with Schneider becoming  the legal ward for his wacky niece and nephew when his brother dies.  That never  happened, ending the Romano legacy.

“One Day at a Time” won it’s only two Emmys this season when Alan Rafkin was honored for directing the episode where Barbara discovers she cannot have children.  Pat Harrington Jr. finally won his supporting award for his long-time portrayal of Schneider--forever going through a mid-life crisis.    

Sanford (NBC).  The revival of Fred Sanford returned in the middle of the 1980 season and was as unsuccessful as the last season.  This was despite a complete retooling of the show where the relationship with the upper crust family of his new paramour was dropped in favor of more misadventures with redneck Cal.  Trying to recapture the old magic, now-widowed Aunt Esther and Grady reappeared on a Friday night time slot.  To no avail.

Soap (ABC).  Things slowed down some in the final season in 1980.  Jessica woke from her coma to get involved with South American revolutionaries (Gregory Sierra and Joe Mantegna).  Mary gives birth and experiences alcoholism.  Burt and Danny get blackmailed with pornographic photos by a corrupt sheriff (Hamilton Camp), leading to Danny getting shot and needing a kidney from Chester--who is revealed to be his father.  Danny is involved with a prostitute and subsequently with Chester’s new paramour.  Jodie hires a detective (Barbara Rhoades) to track down his baby and falls for her before becoming hypnotized as an old Jewish man (future Billy Crystal schtick).  Jimmy’s spurned teacher tries to (literally) destroy the family throughout the season.  Burt gets
Ready..aim...cancel.
involved in politics.  Diana Canova (Corinne) had left to be in her own series with Danny Thomas, leaving Eunice to have the sexual adventures with Dutch.   The season ends in a cliffhanger with Jessica facing a firing squad, Chester holding a gun to Danny, Burt walking into an ambush and Mary and Jessica estranged over the revelations.  There was no resolution to any of these plots as the series was unexpectedly cancelled.  (See “Benson” above for Jessica’s ghostly reappearance.)

Taxi (ABC/NBC).  The Emmy awards and nominations  kept this show--which never gave up it’s quality pedigree--on the air despite sagging ratings.  The expert cast pretty much stayed together.  Struggling actor Bobby was dropped after the third season and Latka’s girlfriend Simka took a larger role in the series.  By the final season, Latka and Simka got married and their romantic experiences created many
Vic Ferari
memorable moments.  And Latka explored other personalities such as a sleazeball lounge lizard and even a version of lead cabbie Alex allowing Andy Kaufman’s amazing talents to escape.  Alex, Elaine and Louie all experience love trials.  Alex reunites with his neurotic ex-wife (Louise Lasser) a couple of times and Louie continues his on again off again courtship with Zena, even dating a blind girl in one tender chapter.  Tony
Lasser and Louie
quits boxing and has comebacks.   At  one time Sunshine goes bankrupt and the cast decide their fates.  But still ABC cancelled the show in 1982 without a resolution.  Danny Devito hosted Saturday Night Live and mocked the decision as HBO pondered picking up the series.  NBC took the bait and “Taxi”followed it’s new distant cousin “Cheers” on Thursday nights.  But “Taxi” didn’t return for a sixth season and “Cheers” took over the awards gathering.  But at the end, Reverend Jim, who spent many episodes trying to get to his vast inheritance, ends the show giving away money to all the cabbies.

The guest stars were a veritable who’s who of Hollywood royalty, past and present and future.  Past stage and screen:  Jack Gilford (as Alex’s dad), Victor Buono, Dick Sargent, Barry Nelson, Keenan Wynn, Al Lewis;  current acclaimed film actors:  Eileen Brennan, Paul Sand, Dick Miller, Julie Kavner, Wallace Shawn, Anne Desalvo, Andrea Marcavucci, Vincent Schiavelli, Allen Garfield; future film and TV stars:  Tom Hanks, Ted Danson, George Wendt, Ernie Hudson, David Paymer, Martin Short, and future “Moonlight-er” Allysse Beasley.  Even Marcia Wallace and Penny Marshall play themselves in two unrelated, uncontrived cameos.  The regulars would reunite some fifteen years later to recreate the filming of the show in “Man on the Moon,” the biopic of the mysterious Andy Kaufman, who passed away not long after the series ended.  The movie, directed by Milos Forman (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) and produced by Devito (“Louie”) would even portray the famous incident where Kaufman’s alter-ego, Tony Clifton, was to make an appearance and ends up getting thrown off the set.

The Emmys kept coming until the end though.  Judd Hirsch picked up two as lead actor.  Devito received one supporting actor and Christopher Lloyd as burnout Jim received two supporting nods.  Carol Kane added a second supporting actress statue to her previous win.  Add one more Best Comedy Award (1980-1981), one directing honor for Jim Burrows and two writing wins (Michael Leeson in 1981 and Ken Estin in 1982) and you have a very well-honored program.  Burrows and many of the writers would go on to provide their winning services to a sports bar in Boston but there names were already known.

Three’s Company (ABC).  Suzanne Somer’s contract disputes led to her leaving the series during the fifth season.  After only two full appearances, she was relegated to telephone “cameos” for the duration.  In the meantime, her clumsy cousin Cindy Snow (Jennilee Harrison) moved in to provide blond bamboozlement.  Larry and Furley played larger parts in the activities by now.  Even the Ropers made a guest appearance (gracefully) where Helen and Furley got together.  In the 1981 season, Priscilla Barnes joined the cast as the
Different Blond, Same schtick
new third roommate, nurse Terri, and she remained until the show’s run was over three years later.  The show continued to rely on misunderstandings for comedy and the only real development occurred as Jack opened his own bistro.  His slapstick antics became the main source of humor by this time.  Lucille Ball, of all people, hosted a retrospective in the 1981 season by praising the “pure” comedy as opposed to the topical “garbage” that Norman Lear put out.  (It was known that Ball had a blood feud with Bea Arthur--“Maude”--during the filming of the “Mame” movie and this probably contributed a lot to her choice of this inane show to champion.  Jeffrey Tambor, fresh off of “The Ropers” played a number of different characters during these seasons.  Other interesting guests were ex-Brady Barry Williams, future Pain-wife Joanna Kerns, future Mrs. Hanks Rita Wilson, and Dick Shawn as Jack’s dad.

The ratings were still decent by the end of the 1984 season, but the producers surreptitiously lured Ritter into a followup as Jack Tripper sans Janet, Terri and Furley.  By the end of that
Crowd-sourcing
season, Janet was married off and Jack met a stewardess and fell in love.  The new series, “Three’s a Crowd” chronicled Jack living with his new love and her domineering father (Robert Mandan of “Soap”) being their landlord.  Jessica Walter (decades later to be Tambor’s wife on “Arrested Development”) would play Mandan’s ex-wife.  The new series did ok, but ABC felt it was time to put the now-dated franchise to an end.

Towards the end of the run, John Ritter took home the only Emmy Award this show ever received--for Best Actor.  He was finally rewarded for all the bruising pratfalls he performed, not necessarily for thoughtful, insightful acting work which he would be known for later in his shortened life.

WKRP In Cincinnati (CBS)   In retrospect, I don’t remember seeing any episodes from the final two seasons.  Like much of America, this underrated series was lost as CBS bounced it around the schedule, allowing only a core devoted audience to keep it on the air.  But I was surprised to see the range of topicality (almost ahead of it’s time) explored in the final two years: a WWII pilot hijacks the news helicopter to bring
Rip Tide lives.
attention to veteran’s rights,; Les’s father is accused of communist ties; Carlson fantasizes after eating Johnny’s pot brownies; Herb deals with alcoholism due to his business “lunches;” the station deals with terrorist bomb threats; the equal threat of unionization crops up (irony attached) as an issue with the dj’s; a right wing minister leads a boycott of the station due to objectionable content; Les deals with an escort service, not realizing it is a front for prostitution; Bailey fabricates a story for newsworthiness; an advertiser sells speed masqueraded as diet pills; Venus experiences issues relating to black identity; Les and Herb attend a 3-D porn movie; and even reality TV is foreshadowed as Herb’s family is targeted for an “American Family” style TV profile.  Pat O’Brien plays an older paramour of Jennifer’s who drops dead during a date.  Johnny Fever gets caught up in his disco identity of “Rip Tide.”  Guests included future “Coach” Craig T. Nelson and future “Newhart” wife Mary Frann and Tim Ried’s wife Daphne. 

The series was unexpectedly cancelled (although ratings were very low) as the fourth season ended with the announcement that WKRP will change to an all-news format.  But there was such a groundswell of love for the series through reruns that Carlson, Les, and Herb returned in 1991 for two seasons of a new WKRP. 

What’s Happening Now! (Syndicated).  Raj, Dwayne and Rerun returned in 1985, six years after it’s 1979 ABC cancellation.  All the original cast members (except Mama) returned as Raj, now a writer, is co-owner of the diner where Shirley works.  Rerun is a used car salesman and Dwayne a computer programmer.  Raj is also married now and he and his wife become foster parents.  Once again, Fred Berry as Rerun has contract issues so he leaves in 1986.  Future comic Martin Lawrence joined the cast in 1988 for the final season of the incarnation.


From Mama Harper to Harper Valley: Mayberry II

  With the new onslaught of dumbed down rural characters, it took a high-class pedigree to trickle down to the mind-numbing exercise of Mama's FamilyCarol Burnett’s “Family” characters from her hit variety show would live on into the next decade.  In 1982, CBS aired a made-for-TV videotaped movie update called “Eunice” named after Burnett’s title character.  In the spring of 1983, NBC decided to bring the characters back for a weekly series.  Burnett appeared in a few episodes and Harvey Korman (who played redneck husband Ed originally) portrayed an erudite narrator here.  But the new show was named after “Mama” Harper played by much younger Vicki Lawrence.  She was no Aunt Bee but the show definitely resembled Mayberry.  Ken Berry
Golden Harper Girls
(unsurprisingly from “Mayberry RFD”) played one of her sons and he and his kids moved in with Mama and met his future wife (Dorothy Lyman) the next door neighbor.  Rue McLanahan played Mama’s sister roommate and Betty White played her snobby daughter Ellen.  The two actresses would go on to sitcom gold in “Golden Girls” after this version of the show was not renewed for a third season.  In 1986, however, the "Mama's Family" was pared down for syndication and had a healthy late eighties run with only Berry and Lyman remaining from the first cast.  The show never ventured into anything other than a simple-minded rural farce with the cantankerous Mother Harper getting most of the forced laughs.

In 1981, Barbara Eden returned to sitcoms as she reprised
Sexy Mayberry
her role from the 1977 low-budget sex-comedy  Harper Valley PTA. The single camera series, with old comedy stars like George Gobel and Louis Nye, hearkened back to Mayberry much as Mama’s Family did, but with a bit more cleavage and debauchery.

BRADY REDUX:
Another family from the past had a blast of nostalgic renewal:  The Bradys would cement their franchise value in this decade.  Despite the disastrous 1977 variety show, NBC and Sherwood Schwartz brought the family back for a TV movie "The Brady Girls Get Married".  Immediately
Bradys-In-Law
following in 1981 was a short-lived sitcom The Brady Brides with only the parents, Eve Plumb and Maureen McCormick starring with the new husbands (a sort of "Odd Couple" pairing).  This series was filmed before a studio audience, differing from the original show.  As the reruns of the original became more and more popular, CBS produced the TV film A Very Brady Christmas in 1988 which also led to a
All in the Brady
series.  This time the whole cast (sans McCormick) was reunited in "The Bradys" (1990) in an hour long dramatic format that made the Bradys look like the Bunker’s:  Bobby was a paraplegic, Marcia an alcoholic and Jan couldn’t have kids.  The whole Brady phenomenon was spoofed in two big screen hits in the nineties bringing it all into perspective.

RETRO RETRO:
Audiences seemed to be hungry for the sixties in the eighties rather than the seventies.  The least successful rehash was the embarrassing return of Lucy in Life with Lucy in a much-hyped fall premiere on ABC in 1986.  The series provided a
There Go's Lucy
sad ending to a legendary career as the geriatric queen of comedy teamed up with Gale Gordon in an ill-timed attempt to recreate the old Desilu magic.  “Leave it to Beaver” even returned with a TV reunion movie “Still the Beaver” followed by a syndicated series with most of the original cast (including Jerry Mathers)  from 1984-1989.
Ron Howard returned to TV with Andy Griffith and Don Knotts and most of Mayberry in the hit NBC film “Return to
I Dream of Trapper
Mayberry.”   “The Beverly Hillbillies” had a CBS reunion movie in 1981 with Imogene Coca replacing the late Irene Ryan.  Fellow Hooterville residents the Douglasses also returned to CBS in a “Green Acres” reunion film in 1990.  Wayne Rogers replaced Larry Hagman in an “I Dream of Jeannie” reunion
film on NBC directed by “Bewitched” creator William Asher.  Of course, “Gilligan’s Island”--in which creator Schwartz started the whole retro thing in the seventies--had one more NBC TV movie where they meet the
Gilligan's Fever Dream
Harlem Globetrotters.  To add to the wierdness it also featured Martin Landau and Barbara Bain of “Mission Impossible.”  The Munsters would return in a syndicated series from 1988-1991 with a whole different cast.  And The Addams Family would continue to creep out audiences for generations with animated series, two hit feature films, a Canadian series in 1998, and a Broadway show.  “Family Affair” would return with a new cast in 2002 produced by the Krofft brothers.  Don Adams would return as Maxwell Smart in a big screen return flop “The Nude Bomb” in 1980 and the series would reboot with a new cast in 1989 on ABC. Even Fred Silverman would bring back “The Flintstones” to prime time NBC in a series of specials in 1980 during the actor’s strike.  And “The Jetsons” would return with a new season of syndicated episodes in 1985. In 2004, the cast of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” would reunite for a three-camera TV event.   A lot of these original sitcoms along with the best of the seventies would be revealed to younger generations through the cable network “Nickleodean” and then “TV Land” lessening the need for remakes.  Feature films would be the venue, though, to remake many of these sixties sitcoms with lovingly ironic tones, big name casts and strange plot twists such as with the big-screen “Bewitched.”  “Sgt. Bilko,” “The Honeymooners,” “The Flintstones,”  “Car 54,” “Beverly Hillbillies,” “Get Smart,” “McHale’s Navy, and “My Favorite Martian.”  The fact that the sitcoms of the seventies have not been "remade" or "reimagined" for the big screen is a testament to their quality and originality.

SO  WITH THE SIXTIES IN VOGUE AND THE EIGHTIES IN PLAY,WE SAY TO THE SEVENTIES:


Bob and Emily: twelve years later.



Lucy and Ritter: Slapstick bookends:


Fonzie Vs Hanks:


Edith's farewell:



















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