Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Many of my younger peers have a fondness for the eighties sitcoms in much the same way that I am endeared to the seventies comedies.  I tended to start dropping out of the television habit at a progressive rate due to college  and subsequently life in general.

The first half of the eighties saw a decline in output.  Many of the seventies hits were still generating ratings and were being stretched thin in terms of quality, held on only by strong ratings.  My previous chapter detailed the remaining years of the seventies holdouts.  In this chapter, I will examine the main players of the seventies and where they headed.  I will also look at the eighties in general and how the sitcoms changed and were influenced by the previous decade, itself marked by rapid change.

The four seminal events in that time frame were:

The record-breaking ratings and sociological impact of the final episode of M*A*S*H.

The demise of “Taxi” coinciding with the premiere of the low-rated Cheers, given a chance due to critical acclaim leading to an incredible eleven years run.

The landmark contribution made by The Cosby Show to the fabric of the family sitcom, ushering in a fresh new dynamic in the portrayal of African-American families and creating a new demand for the family sitcom, hearkening back to the fifties but with a more modern sensibility.

The Golden Girls brought back class acts from the seventies to acknowledge an aging audience as the baby boomers started hitting middle age.

By the end of the eighties, sitcoms starting looking more like the fifties and sixties  with some high concept fare (the alien “Alf” for instance and “Perfect Strangers”)  and multitude of family-oriented formats, some becoming inhabited by a new honest reality--not so much political, but economic--mixed with modern crudeness (“Roseanne” and “Married…with Children”).

Let’s look at the major players of the seventies and show where the eighties (and beyond) took  them:


After revolutionizing sitcoms (and TV in general), Lear settled into more of a consulting role by now.  His programs anchored a hit Sunday night lineup throughout the early 80’s on CBS.  Carroll O’Connor was in charge of “Archie Bunker’s Place.”  Edith was killed off in the second season but Jean Stapleton would make her only other sitcom appearance with Whoopi Goldberg in the TV version of “Baghdad CafĂ©.”  Rob Reiner would become a major Hollywood director (“This is Spinal Tap,” “Princess Bride,” and “When Harry Met Sally” among many others.) Sally Struthers returned for a one season spinoff Gloria in 1982 and would join the cast of
movie spin off “Nine to Five” for it's syndicated run.  The Bunker legacy was quietly put to rest in 1983 without fanfare. Later, O’Connor played a different type of racist in the drama “In the Heat of the Night.”  But somehow the household itself would have it’s own series in 1994 (see below). "The Jeffersons” implausibly continued to garner hit ratings for five more years.  Sherman Hemsley would continue as Deacon
Frye in “Amen” and Marla Gibbs, after a quick spin off of her
Fawlty Remake
Florence character “Checking In” would headline 227 (from Lear’s new Embassy label) until 1990.  “One Day at a Time” would continue on with family crises and cast changes and additions until 1984.  Bea Arthur and Rue McLanahan of “Maude” would reunite for “Golden Girls” after Arthur would briefly play the John Cleese part in a “Fawlty Towers” remake called Amanda’s. 

As for the “Sanford and Son” family, Demond Wilson would be one half of the New Odd Couple for Garry Marshall.  Redd Foxx would return during mid season of the 1980 season with the second retooled season of the followup “Sanford” on NBC adding Lawanda Page and Whitman Mayo for good measure.  The series still couldn’t recapture the earlier success.  Foxx went back to ABC with the Redd Foxx Show where he
Read Foxx
played a newsstand owner who befriends a runaway.  After teaming with superstar Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor in the big screen “Harlem Nights,” Murphy produced The Royal Family (CBS, 1991) re teaming Foxx with Della Reese as a postal worker and his family.  In a tragically ironic moment, Foxx died on the set during taping…clutching his chest with a heart attack.

Lear’s production company would continue to produce “Diff’rent Strokes,” “Facts of Life,” the spin off Silver Spoons,
80's Trend
Who’s the Boss with Tony Danza (“Taxi”) and Katherine Hellmond (“Soap”), and the aforementioned 227. Sadly, none of these shows offered the bite and satire of the seventies shows. Only the single-season
Cliques in the City
Square Pegs offered a cultural touchpoint by representing the eighties in a high school setting and launching the career of a young Sara Jessica Parker by way of SNL scribe Anne Beatts.

Lear did have a more creative and direct hand in four more series into the nineties which hearkened back to the topicality of year’s past (each bears mention for it’s boldness and a sense of Lear’s balanced yet ironic take on politics and life):
AKA Pablo (ABC, 1984): Paul Rodriquez appropriately played a stand up comedian whose stand up routine-mocking the Latino lifestyle--offended the sensibilities of his traditional Hispanic family.
Sunday Dinner (CBS, 1991):  Robert Loggia played the patriarch of a large Catholic family.  His loving relationship with a younger woman (Teri Hatcher) created a lot of animosity with the traditional values of his grown children (with problems of their own).  Yet it was the girlfriend, who was devoutly religious AND socially liberal--as an environmentalist--who would have a conversation with God in each episode.  The examination of the issues of the day was the closest sitcoms had come to “All in the Family” since that series left the air.
Powers That Be (NBC, 1991).  In this, one of the cleverest political satires, Lear left no one untouched in Clinton-era Washington DC.  John Forsythe was the philandering,
Power-Ful Cast
pandering Democratic Senator.  Holland Taylor (“Two and a Half Men”) played his bitchy Nancy Reagan-esque wife.  He had an anorexic daughter married to a suicidal Representative played by David Hyde White (“Frasier”).  Peter Macnichol (“Ally McBeal”) played the spineless press-aide--a “spin-meister”.  Joseph Gordon Leavett (“Third Rock from the Sun”) played the computer-hacking grandson.  The senior senator Powers even had a Jewish illegitimate daughter who worked with him and dispensed better advice than any of his cronies. 
704 Hauser (CBS, 1994)  Definitely a sign of the times.  In
Parallel Bunker
order to confront the growing neoconservative movement, Lear switched gears on the current tenants of the Bunker household.  John Amos played the father, a traditional working class liberal black man.  His son, however, was a conservative married to a white Jewish woman played by Maura Tierney (“Newsradio”).
As you can see by all these short-term series, Lear was ahead of the curve in examining society and the flaws inherent in dogma in any form.  I suppose this is why he became a consultant to the take-no-prisoners “South Park.”  God bless Norman Lear.
Comedy Lessons

Lear’s old partner, Bud Yorkin, only produced one more sitcom: 1982’s One of the Boys starring Mickey Rooney as an old guy going back to school and rooming with his
grandson and his buddy played by future stars Dana Carvey and Nathan Lane.  His “What’s Happening,” still a hit through reruns, was brought back with most of the original cast in What’s Happening Now!. The follow-up which was syndicated from 1985 until 1988 featured a young Martin Lawrence in it's final season.  

Saul Tutletaub and Bernie Orenstein--Yorkin’s partners with TOY--went back on their own. On CBS, In the fall of 1984, for Lear’s new production company Embassy Television, the two writers created E/R set in a Chicago emergency room. Film
star Elliott Gould and Mary McDonnell played the two main doctors with George Clooney actually playing a recurring role in a different version of future his breakout show.  Another film star, Karen Black, would appear intermittently as Gould’s ex-wife.  And in order to generate crossover appeal, Sherman Hemsley appeared in the first episode, as George Jeffersons--uncle to one of the nurses (Lynn Moody).  The gimmick didn’t work as "E/R" had much more of a dramatic style than “The Jeffersons.”  Turtletaub and Orenstein would also produce a teen twin romp for NBC called Double Trouble and Jack Klugman's return to sitcoms with John Stamos in "You Again?" (NBC, 1986)

Jack's Back
NRW would continue to produce “The Jeffersons” and “Three’s Company” until 1985.  “Three’s Company” Co-producer Don Taffner would continue the series one more
season as Three’s a Crowd with only John Ritter. Ritter would continue in sitcoms until his surprisingly early death in the 2000s.  Co-produced by Steven Bochco, he played a San Fransisco detective in the seriocomic Hooperman from 1987-1989.  And continued on with Hearts Afire and “8 Simple Things.”  Suzanne Somers would recover from her bad PR regarding her contract disputes and 1981 exit of the show by starring in the syndicated “She’s the Sheriff” and the family hit “Step By Step” while promoting a popular series of books ant tapes related to exercise and health.  

Aaron Ruben who, with an incredible rap sheet that included Andy Griffith and Dick Van Dyke, had co-produced "Sanford and Son" during it's hit run and developed "CPO Sharkey."  In the 80's, he created Teachers Only for NBC.  The faculty included Lynn Redgrave (fresh off of her "House Calls" fiasco) and Norman Fell (fresh off of his "Ropers" fiasco.).  Finally,Mort Lachman, Rod Parker and Hal Cooper, known mostly for “Maude,” created Gimme a Break” (NBC 1981-1987) a 1980’s staple featuring Broadway musical star Nell Carter helping to raise the kids of a crusty cop (Dolph Sweet).  The long run occurred despite constant schedule changes.


"Let's Be Careful Out There"
Grant Tinker would carry on the MTM banner not with sitcoms but with high quality dramas:  Stephen Bochco’s “Hill Street Blues” and Bruce Paltrow’s “St. Elsewhere” would set the
tone for dramas with an ironic sense of humor and showcasing the  dark underbelly of warped humanity.  These series would represent the golden age of programming in the eighties.  MTM continued “Lou Grant” until 1982 when star Ed Asner’s left-wing politics ired the CBS brass and they unjustly cancelled the award-winning series.  But the two aforementioned series garnered enough Emmy Awards to make up for that loss.  The only other MTM hour-long series which generated a following was “Remington Steele” with future James Bond Pierce Brosnan. 

Carrey in fowl form.
Other than “WKRP” and the hit “Newhart” (see below), MTM’s only other foray into sitcoms was The Duck Factory (NBC, 1984).  MTM scribe Alan Burns returned to his cartoon roots ( “Bullwinkle and Rocky”) in this ensemble piece about the wacky employees of an animation firm.  Short-lived, the series was notable for one of it’s main stars:  a young Jim Carrey!

Following a  critically-acclaimed short-term foray into features (“Ordinary People”) and Broadway,  Mary Tyler Moore attempted twice to recapture her original magic with her MTM label:
Mary (CBS, 1985) had Mary--this time around she got the divorce---working for a Chicago tabloid.  The formula matched her first series with a love/hate boss relationship (James Farentino) and a group of office loonies (John Astin and future Peg Bundy, Katey Sagal).  The three camera show, created by Ken Levine and David Isaacs, did not last past it’s thirteen episode run.   But she tried again with:
Annie Maguire (CBS, 1988).  This time she was divorced and remarried with kids.  And this time, politics took center stage as she had lively discussions with her husband and their respective parents with differing views (Eileen Heckert and John Randolph).  Again, no go with the audiences.  Interestingly, her original TV husband Dick Van Dyke would return in a new sitcom, The Van Dyke Show following “Annie Maguire.”  It featured his son, Barry Van Dyke and Whitman Mayo (“Grady”).
Moore would return to television many times in dramas, none being successful.

Valerie Harper (Rhoda) would return in the sitcom Valerie in 1986 but due to creative differences she would drop out and the show would end up as “The Hogan Family” with Sandy Duncan taking over as the harried mother figure to, among others, a young Jason Bateman.  Harper would go on to a successful Broadway career and a couple of sitcom attempts.

Moore and Harper would team up in a 2000 ABC made-for-tv film reunion, “Mary and Rhoda.”  Devoted fans of the original were disappointed by the melodramatic reunion (sans the balance of the cast).  The updated punk-rock theme version of the show generated more interest.

Ted Knight would continue with a successful run on ABC with Too Close for Comfort where he played a harried cartoonist dad to two attractive daughters in San Fransisco.  With Don Taffner of ‘Three’s Company” behind the scenes, the show
Knight Moves
relied on lots of sexual innuendo and skimpy outfits for more well-endowed daughter.  After the three year run on ABC, the show would continue on in syndication for a few years as “Ted Knight Show.”  Before his very untimely death, Knight made a mark on feature films as the uptight judge in the hit “Caddyshack.”

Gavin Macleod would continue on as Captain Steubing on “The Love Boat” before retiring from acting.  Post “Lou Grant,” the outspoken Asner would be featured in a number of sitcoms but gain fame in his eighties for voicing the main character in the animated Pixar film “Up.”  Leachman would continue to be featured in motion picture comedies (even playing “Granny” in the big screen “Beverly Hillbillies”) and took over as den mother for the final season of “Facts of Life.”  Her appearances continue to this day in many modern sitcoms.  Georgia Engel would have recurring roles in “Coach” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.”  And after her award-winning turn in “Golden Girls," Betty White would become a media darling at ninety years of age with honors and tributes and books and film roles and a new hit sitcom on the cable nostalgia channel TV Land “Hot in Cleveland.” All of the attention started with a TV commercial airing during the Super Bowl.

Just last month (as of this writing) all the women of the original "Mary Tyler Moore Show" reunited in an episode of
Hot in Cleveland along with it’s younger stars including
Valerie Bertinelli.  It was heartwarming to see the five actresses together again in a three camera format.  Harper battling newly diagnosed cancer and Moore with her debilitating diabetic condition made brave appearances with Engel and the aging twin dynamos of White and Leachman.  The series was known for bringing back older sitcom stars from the seventies and eighties in guest roles such as Asner, Hal Linden, Bonnie Franklin, Carl Reiner, and Tim Conway.

When Diane English created Murphy Brown(CBS, 1988-1998) starring Candice Bergen--with her ensemble newsroom setting in Washington DC--it was heralded as the second
New Kid in Town
coming of Mary Richards.  Especially with headline-grabbing plot lines such as Murphy becoming a single mother and the overtly liberal political activism as Murphy battles with Dan Quayle, the highly-acclaimed series lacked the gentle subtlety of the WJM crew. 

And nearly three decades after Mary hit Minneapolis, the single career girl took another turn along with the sitcom.  
What you talkin bout, Willis?
Much as "Moonlighting" turned TV comedy on it's fanciful head with the old fashioned romantic comedy-murder mystery romp mashing it up with a hip and light eighties sensibility (as well reviving Cybil Shephard's career and launching bartender Bruce Willis into stardom), "Ally McBeal" did the same thing with Calista
Here's to the 90's.
Flockhart playing the lovelorn waif in a Boston law firm launching into musical daydreams with an ensemble cast of quirky yet stylish yuppies.

And yet one of the greatest tributes to Mary Tyler Moore was
Mary and Lou on acid.
by Tina Fey,star and creator of 30 Rock.  Comedy show
producer Liz Lemon was patterned after Mary--a bit more whacked out--and her love/hate relationship with archconservative corporate mogul/network head Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) was a more appropriate love letter to the greatest ensemble sitcom ever.
From Mary to Tina

Like White, Bob Newhart would keep on going with a rabid fan base that appreciated his gentle and sophisticated brand of comedy in “The Bob Newhart Show”.  In 1980, he made an ill-advised detour into features with the crude “First Family.” In 1982, he returned to CBS in Newhart, MTM’s only hit sitcom in the eighties other than the remaining years of “WKRP”.  Videotaped the first year and wisely reverting to three camera for the remaining seven years, the series cast Bob as a
New Heartland
Vermont inn owner with another beautiful wife (Mary Frann) and a supporting cast of goofballs including Tom Poston as his bumbling handyman.  Probably the greatest moment for geeks like myself occurred when, in the final episode in 1990, Newhart’s character Dick gets hit on the head with a golf ball and wakes up in bed with Emily (Suzanne Pleshette).  Thus, the entire followup series was merely a dream by psychologist Bob Hartley in Chicago.  Now that’s creativity!

Bob would continue to play variations of himself:  In Bob (1992) he would play a comic book cartoonist (from the creators of “Cheers”).  In the second season of that series, he would work for a greeting card company run by none other than Betty White.  In 1998, he would return in George and Leo where he and Judd Hirsch played the battling personality
Bob and Judd: The Sequel
game living with their respective married kids (including Jason Bateman, again.)    Newhart would continue to make appearances on network TV such as a rare dramatic arc in “ER” and a hilarious guest stint on “Big Bang Theory"--just last week he won his first Emmy for that appearance.  And as for Emily:  Suzanne Pleshette would make her sitcom comeback to little notice in Maggie Briggs (CBS, 1984) and continue on into the 2000’s with “Good Morning, Miami” and a stint on “Will and Grace” before her death in 2008.  Peter Bonerz would go on to sitcom directing except for a short stint as the boss on the TV version of “Nine to Five." Marcia Wallace (Carol) would play the maid on the sick yet brilliant Parker-Stone sitcom parody “That’s My Bush.”

The incredible group of writers and producers that created the sophisticated character comedy of “Mary Tyler Moore Show” and graduated to “Taxi” continued to create innovative concepts into the next couple of decades in TV while dabbling in feature films.

James L. Brooks would do more than dabble as he won an Academy Award for his first feature as writer and director, “Terms of Endearment.”  His success would continue with “Broadcast News” (in the newsroom again!), “As Good as it Gets,” and “Spanglish.”  But he produced a comedy anthology series for the new Fox network, “The Tracy Ullman Show” which led to a little-known spin off:  The Simpsons(featuring the voice of “Rhoda’s” Julie Kavner.) The animated family
From Caveman to Caveman
would overtake “The Flintstones” as the longest running prime time sitcom and pretty much set the tone for subversive family programming such as the crude and cruel “Family Guy” up to the present day.  In my humble minority opinion, this is a step backward from the thoughtful, gentle programming he originated in 1970.

The team that left MTM to create “Taxi” for Paramount created another critically acclaimed series for ABC in fall of 1981.  Best of the West was a well-written three camera sitcom taking place in the Old West.  Much like “Taxi” the series had a crack cast playing well-drawn characters but the premise couldn’t last past one season. 
Subtle Humor.
Ed. Weinberger and Stan Daniels of the group would create interesting sitcoms in the 80’s:  Mr. Smith (NBC, 1983) had an brilliant orangutan running a government agency. 
Howl at the Chief
Mr. President (FOX, 1987) had George C. Scott as a widowed commander in Chief featuring Conrad Bain and Madeline Kahn. 

Weinberger would make TV history as co-creator of The Cosby Show.  Bill Cosby would return along with MTM director Jay Sandrich to create the most important series in the eighties.  This gentle family series
Dr. Cosby to the Rescue
anchored the “Must See TV” Thursday night lineup on NBC up to the early nineties along with “Cheers,” “Family Ties” and “Night Court.”  What Cosby did was effect the portrayal of an upper middle class African American family without the buffoonery of “The Jeffersons.”  He opened cultural barriers with the Huxtables who exemplified the modern American family with all the traditions therein while maintaining an appreciation and acknowledgement of their ethnic roots.  But also “The Cosby Show” brought the family sitcom back to it’s nuclear roots with the kids, grand kids, etc at the same time “Married..with Children” would tear it all down by celebrating the dysfunctions inherent in same.  Speaking of “The Jeffersons” Weinberger brought back Sherman Hemsley as a Philadelphia deacon in Amen another African -American
Really Movin On Up.
ensemble piece featuring Clifton Davis (“That’s My Mama”)--an actual preacher by now--and Anna Deveare Smith.  Along with Marla Gibb’s “227” these series tended to reflect a more middle of the road portrayal of black life like Cosby did, while still reverting (to a lesser extent) to stereotypes that audiences seemed to respond to.  It is interesting (and sad) to note that, prior to the Cosby premiere, ABC attempted to launch a sitcom in 1983 about a black genie and his white master “Just Our Luck.”   Needless to say, the NAACP demanded a hand in the show’s direction and it was just thankfully cancelled.

The Carsey-Werner company that produced "The Cosby Show" would represent the new standard in the eighties sitcom.  After presenting the hit Cosby sequel "A Different World" with daughter Lisa Bonet's college life at Hillman
New Normal.
launching a new ensemble of young hip students, Carsey-Werner grabbed another stand-up comedian, Roseanne Arnold, and took the family sitcom to a different level with the plain crass blue-collar brood.  Not long after the new Fox network lampooned the typical American family with "Married..with Children" and the horribly crude and unethical Bundys, "Roseanne" featuring the utra-talented John Goodman and Laurie Metcalfe reached

mainstream heights with it's portrayal of adults who had not quite grown up raising kids as best they could with job changes, economic challenges and a modern permissiveness that put "Father Knows Best" to a final resting place.  Carsey-Werner would continue into the nineties with "Home Improvement." 

Daniels would also try his hand in updating the African American sitcom on Fox in 1991 with Roc featuring Charles S. Dutton.  “Roc” didn’t shy away from the serious issues facing lower income blacks--Roc was a Baltimore garbage worker-- and morphed from sitcom fare to some very
dramatic episodes during it’s three year run.  Also for Fox in 1992, Daniels would have a hand in Flying Blind a very funny romantic comedy about a conservative young man living with a flighty free spirit (Tea Leoni in her breakthrough role) in the “slacker” world of Bohemia.

Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses, creators of “Bob Newhart Show” and “Tony Randall Show” would detour into crude features with “Up Your Academy” before returning to TV  Open All Night (ABC, 1981) about a 24-hour convenience
Not your father's Bill
store featuring cult actress Susan Tyrell and the critically acclaimed Buffalo Bill (NBC, 1983-1984) featuring Dabney Coleman as the irascible unlikeable host of a local interview program.  Tarses would bring

Coleman back in another unlikeable character on ABC with The Slap Maxwell Story in 1987. Individually, they created hit series such as Alf (NBC, 1986-1990) and critical favorite Days and Nights of Molly Dodd. 

Great Divide
Gary David Goldberg would go on to produce one of NBC’s must-see sitcoms Family Ties   This family comedy was an appropriate snapshot of politics during the Reagan years.  The Keatons (Michael Gross, Meredith Baxter) were liberal activists by nature with their hippie lifestyle in the 60’s behind them as they raised a family and worked for public television.  But their oldest son Alex was a budding conservative.  Michael J. Fox expertly played the role to multiple Emmys and a
Future Tea Partier
feature film career.  This series did a good job of blending comedy with the inherent family dramas.  Goldberg would team up again with Fox in Spin City for ABC in 1996.   Hugh Wilson would complete his work for “WKRP” in 1982 and go on to direct features such as “Police Academy” and “First Wives Club.”  He would create a couple of series for his “WKRP” alumni: one not so successful--Easy Street with Loni Anderson and Jack Elam (NBC, 1987) and one that was highly acclaimed and honored, Frank’s Place starring and co-created by WKRP's Tim Reid (CBS 1988).


The longest lasting legacy of these writers and directors was Cheers (NBC).  James Burrows along with Glen and Les
Let me tell you bout Sam and Diane
Charles (director and writers who cut their teeth with MTM and found their voice on “Taxi”) created this ensemble piece about the denizens of a Boston Sports Bar.  "Cheered" starred many actors who were featured on “Taxi”: Ted Danson as the washed-up baseball star owner hiring an over-educated Shelly Long as a barmaid.  Rhea Perlman lasted the entire run as the wiseacre barmaid Carla and Woody Harrelson and Kirstie Allye would join the award-winning cast during the eleven year run.  And Kelsey Grammer, as the obtuse psychologist Frasier Crane would carry on the
Young Frasier

franchise through (gulp) 2004 with the spin off “Frasier” itself an award-winning mainstay. “Cheers” carried on the excellent character writing and portrayals of the MTM model (work as home) but as the series dragged on the humor became a tad predictable with the Greek Chorus of Norm (George Wendt) and Cliff (John Ratzenberger)--a victim of a long run in general--and the sexual tension between Danson’s Sam and Long’s Diane (and eventually Alley’s Rebecca) lent the show a voyeuristic bent.  Arguably, the model--even though helmed by the best and brightest--fed into the lazy low-brow comedy stylings that would feed into the Bush-era anti-intellectualism.  But Frasier brought a classy drawing
Everybody Knows His Name
room comedy element back to the forefront in the nineties along with the excellentthree camera character studies seen in the nihilistic “Seinfeld,” the insightful “Mad About You,” the political “Spin City,”  the insane “Newsradio,” the style-setting “Friends” and the broad “Third Rock from the Sun.” Burrows and his colleagues would have a hand in many other sitcoms throughout the nineties and beyond, especially “Wings” and “Will and Grace” until the mid-2000’s when “The Office," “30 Rock,” and "Modern Family" would herald a new laugh-track free single camera self-conscious revolution in the sitcom form.


After creating the ABC ratings bonanzas of “Happy Days,” “Laverne and Shirley” and “Mork and Mindy"--all of which inexplicably continued to decent ratings throughout the early 80’s--Marshall, like Brooks before him, started working in features directing “Young Doctors in Love,” “Flamingo Kid,” “Beaches,” and the mega-hit “Pretty Woman.”  Much as his
1986 Film
TV fare, many of his films were designed to pander to a class conscious emotionality, successfully so.  Making Julia Roberts a  household name (as he did with Robin Williams and tried to do with Tom Hanks) also deems him a kingmaker to a degree.  Nothing in Common (NBC,1987)was a sitcom based on my favorite Marshall film of the same title starring Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason-- in his final masterful performance.  The forgettable three-camera TV show had Bill Macy (“Maude”) in the Gleason role.The film though was father/son saga consisting of an expert blend of comedyand drama with a tutorial on the advertising business thrown in for good measure.Marshall also brought back “The Odd Couple,” this time with
The Mod Couple
an African-American cast in 1982.  The New Odd Couple featured Ron Glass (“Barney Miller”) in the Felix role and Demond Wilson (“Sanford and Son”) inthe Oscar role.  Also, the “Happy Days” spin off Joannie Loves Chachi reared it’s ugly head as detailed in the previous chapter. 

As for Marshall’s co-horts in the Miller-Milkis Paramount team, the most creative series was Bosom Buddies.   Premiering on ABC in 1980 and lasting only two seasons, this series was an update on Billy Wilder's “Some Like it Hot.”  A
Some Like it Not
pre-filmgod Hanks and Peter Scolari played a couple of ad execs (the unintentional precursor to “Nothing in Common”) who moonlight in drag in order to stay in a cheap apartment--a women only hotel.  The series had an impressive pedigree of the New Hollywood.  The improvisational style of the dialogue made the high concept series fresh.  Also featured were Holland Taylor, Wendy Jo Sperber and Donna Dixon. 

Otherwise, Miller-Milkis had pretty standard sitcom fare--mostly of the “buddy” variety--the most noteworthy being the
inane but much more popular Perfect Strangers (ABC, 1986-1992) and it’s sequel Family Matters which introduced Urkel to America.  “Family Matters” was part of a huge push for family fare ABC attempted as a Friday night format.  Along with Robert Boyett (the new partner), Miller-Milkis brought the family comedy Full House to ABC in 1987.  This long-lasting sitcom about three men raising kids (including the Olsen twins) was presaging the same-sex parenting issue which would dominate social politics in the next millennium.  And Suzanne Somers would return to sitcoms in 1992 in an updated version of  the Bradys in Step by Step also produced by Miller-Milkis.  They also helmed the aforementioned series starring Valerie Harper which became The Hogan Family.

As for Marshall’s original hit “The Odd Couple,”  Tony Randall and Jack Klugman reunited for a made for TV movie update in 1993.  (The film cast --Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau--would reunite for a sequel to the 1968 film in 1998).  After Klugman’s long-term success in the crime-drama “Quincy,” he would star briefly in the sitcom You Again? for NBC in 1986 for Yorkin’s old TOY partners Turtletaub and Orensentein.  And Randall would play an aging gay man in Love, Sidney on NBC from 1981-1982.  Based on a sentimental TV Movie where Sidney takes in a single mother (played by Swoosie
Randall's Requiem
Kurtz in the series), the sitcom started out with very oblique references to Sidney’s sexuality.  But when Hal Cooper and Rod Parker (“Maude”) took over in the second season, there was more of an attempt to deal with the character’s homosexuality.  Randall and Klugman would both continue to play character parts in features, TV and Broadway.  Klugman trudged on even after debilitating throat cancer and Randall (always mocking his stodgy image) trudged on through young wives and fatherhood until their respective deaths in the late 2000's.

Having established comedy bonafides with “Soap” and the spin off “Benson” (running until 1986) the WTH production company featuring Susan Harris and Danny Thomas’s son, Tony would hit it’s stride in the 80’s.  In the fall of 1980, Diana Canova would leave “Soap” to  team up with Danny Thomas himself in a father-daughter comedy featuring Martin Short, But I’m a Big Girl Now. The other premiere, It's a Living was a sexier premise about waitresses working in a swank
Upscale Alice
Los Angeles hotel restaurant/bar.  Ann Jillian  as the saucy and sexy Cassie was the breakout star in this ensemble show.  The show was retooled a bit for it’s second season (now called Making a Living) adding Louise Lasser to the cast.  But it would be a staple in syndication after it’s two season ABC run throughout the
Stevenson's Last Stand
eighties with various cast alterations.  Witt had a hand in McLean Stevenson’s fourth comeback attempt, Condo on ABC in 1983…a show that also featured a Latino family living in the suburbs instead of the barrio.  Child actress Patty Duke tried twice with the production team for ABC: In It Takes Two (1982) Richard Crenna takes part in a dueling political debate again (first was “All’s Fair” in 1976) but this time he is a liberal doctor married
Mad About Two
to Duke’s conservative lawyer. (She started out liberal but her work at the DA’s office brought out her conservative side.)  They have two kids played by future stars Helen Hunt and Anthony Edwards.  Duke returned in 1985 with the serialized political farce Hail to the Chief as the nation’s first female President and Ted Bessell as her husband.

Things changed for the trio in 1985.  Bea Arthur and Rue McLanahan teamed up with MTM’s Betty White in the pop culture landmark Golden Girls. As sitcoms were becoming
Greatest Generation
more family and youth oriented, Susan Harris decided there was an aging audience that would appreciate the ribald adventures of a group of single women in their fifties living together in Miami.  Arthur (Dorothy), McLanahan (Blanche) and Rose (White) saw their careers revive with this seven-year top ten run, a Saturday night staple on NBC. With Broadway’s Estelle Getty providing ample support as Dorothy’s mother Sophia who suffered from comic dementia--coming across more like a borscht belt routine than a debilitating condition of the elderly--the cast was extremely well-rounded and the comic timing exquisite.  (White and McLanahan wisely switched characters at the last minute, showing a true acting range.)  As the series would be rerun more than the sixties hillbilly shows and the castaways on Gilligan’s island, Arthur and McLanahan’s roles in “Maude” would be forgotten and White would keep plugging away into her nineties as a show biz icon.  (See “Hot in Cleveland” above).  WTH and NBC pulled the cross-over trick with a couple of series until the mid-nineties:  Richard Mulligan (“Soap”) would return to the producers as a Miami widowed veterinarian with two adult daughters and a large dog in Empty Nest (1988-1995) which led to Nurses (1991-1994) with Loni Anderson (1991-1994).  Don Reo worked with Witt and Thomas on three series: First was the modern farm-themed Heartland(1989, CBS) with Brian Keith.  Then Ted Wass (also of “Soap”) played the dad in Blossom (1991-1995, NBC) which gave “Diff’rent Strokes” a run for it’s money in the “very special episode” category. Finally, the dark John Larroquette Show(1993-1996, NBC) which saw visits from Getty as Sophia.  All of these WTH series would mimic the Norman Lear shows in their videotaped dramatic moments but the schtick was amped up to almost unrealistic levels at times.  The casts though were always the best in TV comedy. 

Harris would return to the serialized format on her own in Good and Evil for ABC in 1991 starring Teri Garr with little fanfare except it’s controversial portrayal of a blind character (Mark Blankfield) that generated protests from the National Federation of the Blind.

The final Witt Thomas series would be Everything’s Relative (1999, NBC) featuring Jeffrey Tambor and Jill Clayburgh.  Mitchell Hurwitz, the creator, worked with the team for many years and in 2003 would create one of the most highly acclaimed and transformative sitcoms, “Arrested Development” starring Tambor and Jason Bateman and featuring the voice of (producer) Ron Howard and Henry Winkler…two seventies powerhouses by way of the fifties in the 2000’s.  Wow.

KOMACK CHRONICLES: NINE TO FIVE.James  Komack would get out of sitcoms in the eighties, only producing the final season of Nine to Five. Based on the hit comedy film in 1980 about a trio of secretaries dealing with a sexually
9 To 5 Not Working
aggressive boss, the series, starring Rita Moreno would would start in 1982 on ABC with Jeffrey Tambor playing the abusive superior to be replaced by Peter Bonerz (“Bob Newhart Show”).  Jane Fonda left as producer the third season, when Komack took over and changed a few things.  The series came back in syndication for many years in 1986 with Sally Struthers taking over the Moreno part. What started as a satire on workplace harassment just became another goofy ensemble piece.  Komack would go on to direct “Porky’s Revenge.”  Enough said.

Speaking of working women, “Alice” would  somehow last until 1985 with a new southern waitress to replace Diane Ladd’s Belle:  Celia Weston’s Jolene.  The show just became a silly vehicle with guest appearances and outlandish slapstick situations.  Once again, with Lucy’s old producers Madelyn Carroll and Bob Davis in charge, it was no surprise.   The spin off “Flo,” which started off with huge ratings in it’s mid season 1980 premiere would falter in it’s second season, the power of a bad time slot.  With guest stars such as Forrest Tucker (as Flo’s wayward dad) and George Lindsay (“Goober”) the show provided lots of rural throwback that was rearing it’s ugly head.   Carroll and Davis would bring Lucille Ball back in 1986:  ABC’s much-anticipated fall premiere “Life with Lucy” was a huge flop as the geriatric Ball and Gale Gordon try to rekindle the old magic with stale jokes and pathetic slapstick.

Davis and Carroll brought another big screen hit to the small screen for Warner Brothers television: Private Benjamin. Lorna Patterson played the Goldie Hawn part and the recently
departed Eileen Brennan (winning two Emmys) and Hal
Hilarious Captain Lewis
Cooper reprised their feature roles in the story of a "Jewish American princess" joining the armed services.  The single camera show started strong in spring of 1981 (as a lead-in to M*A*S*H) and ended weak after changing to a three camera videotaped format in it’s third season.  It never ventured into anything more topical than sexual stereotypes.  That’s not surprising since the old-school creative team from “Alice” and “Lucy” were behind the show along with veterans William Asher and William D’Angelo.  Not surprisingly, Laverne and Shirley had just had an experience as army recruits in the 1979  with even less dignity.  Jimmie Walker (“Good Times”) returned in another single season military comedy for ABC in 1983 called At Ease as a new version of “Sgt. Bilko.”  Josh Mostel and David Naughton, both of whom failed at bringing the big screen to sitcom world in the 1970’s also starred with “M*A*S*H” veteran Hy Averback behind the scenes for Aaron Spelling Productions.  The military sitcom would return only one more time: “Major Dad” (CBS) in 1989.

Speaking of female ensembles, Linda Bloodworth-Thomasen, a writer who made a name for herself penning a “M*A*S*H” episode, created a serialized sitcom called Filthy Rich-- sort of a “Soap” by way of “Dallas.”  The original pilot was cut up
Petti-Soap Junction
into three episodes by CBS and aired after “M*A*S*H” in the summer of 1982.  The  high ratings begged it’s return in the fall.  Although the Memphis setting was bucolic and the situations were extremely raunchy, the series was misunderstood at the time.  The deceased family patriarch (Slim Pickens in the pilot, Forrest Tucker thereafter) gives his greedy progeny video instructions weekly in order in order to affect certain behaviors.  The dialogue was ferociously sassy and with Ann Wedgeworth (“Three’s Company”), Dixie Carter and Delta Burke providing the southern sauce, the series was clearly out it’s league with the rest of the CBS corn pone.  The lasting legacy of this spoof was the relationship between Bloodworth, Carter and Burke who would reunite in 1986 for the classic Designing Women. At the time billed as “The Golden Girls With
Quiet Before the Storm
Accents,” the long-running series followed the Sugarbaker sisters (Carter and Burke) along with Annie Potts and Jean Smart as they ran an interior design firm in Atlanta.  Bloodworth and her husband/partner Harry Thomasen provided lots of liberal soapboxing, especially for Carter--who could let the words flow at such an incredibly artful pace in insult or proclamation.  So the Thomasens, close friends with Bill and Hillary from their Arkansas days, would set a new tone for rural comedy into the 90’s.  Politics, very liberal politics along with "Murphy Brown," would be the order of the day and audiences were not left with Lear’s balanced satire or the dumbed down yoakum of Hooterville or the gentle conservative moralizing of Mayberry.  The team would continue this trend into the 90’s with Evening Shade starring Burt Reynolds and Marilu Henner (“Taxi”) and Hearts Afire with John Ritter, Markie Post and Billy Bob Thornton.

  After “Barney Miller” finally wins it’s Emmy in it’s final season, Arnold took a sitcom break until 1986 when he brought Joe Bash to ABC.  Peter Boyle played Bash, a
Blarney Miller
slightly corrupt cop biding his time until his upcoming retirement.  Also videotaped on a single “precinct” set, the show differed from “Barney Miller” in that there was no audience or laugh track allowing more of a dramatic tone to the darkly comic show.

“Barney Miller” writer Reinhold Weege, however found more success in the eighties with Night Court in 1984. Sort of a “Barney Miller” in the courtroom, this series--starring magician Harry Anderson as Judge Harry Stone--had a much higher wackiness factor and more standard sitcom conventions.  Nonetheless, thanks to it's placement on the hit Thursday
night NBC lineup for most of it’s eight-year run, "Night Court" was highly rated with a rabid fan base.  The above-mentioned Larroquette would become the highest-awarded comic performer from the series playing the insufferable prosecutor Dan Fielding.

The original “Barney Miller” cast would remain best loved for that series and never really break out into any other roles.  Abe Vigoda would basically parody himself for years and play off the fact that he was still alive.  But to this day, “Barney Miller” is considered one of the finest comedy programs ever created for television and is held in reverence by lovers of quality programming.

A couple of other cop comedies in the 80’s would usher in the single camera, non-laugh track format that would take over in
Royal Drebin
the 2000’s.  The incredibly short run of Police Squad starring Leslie Neilson would showcase the zany nonsensical satire of the Zucker Brothers as evidenced in their hit film “Airplane.”  Their popular “Naked Gun” film series was a continuation of this 1982 summer show that was too expensive to continue producing.  In 1986, D’Angelo had a hand in creating Sledgehammer a parody take-off of the “Dirty Harry” cop genre.

  The eighties would be huger for the 4077th than the seventies.  With the syndicated reruns extremely popular on college campuses and Alan Alda already nurturing a feature film career as writer/director/star a la Woody Allen, the series became even more “important” as the Korean War went on for a total of eleven years.  The cast remained pretty much the same to the end.  And where so many of the seventies sitcoms just petered out in the eighties with no fanfare or resolutions after lengthy runs, M*A*S*H went out with quite a bang.  The two and a half hour TV movie event, “Farewell, Amen and Goodbye” saw the end of the series.  It also remained the highest rated single televised program until 2010.  Quite a feat.  

Much like “Barney Miller” the cast would never live down the roles they played to devoted audiences.  Alda would produce Four Seasons a sitcom on CBS in 1984 based on his hit 1981 with Carol Burnett and go on to be a reliable character actor after his directing career ebbed.  Jamie Farr would have a golf tournament.  Other than that, it was dinner theater and cameo appearances for the cast.  Harry Morgan, Farr, and William Christopher would remain in character for two more seasons in Aftermash chronicling Potter’s running a Kansas City veteran’s hospital with Klinger and Mulcahey in tow.  Even Larry Gelbart returned for bit of creative heft.  But after a nice start, the series ended with a whimper at the start of 1985 ending a very important franchise in sitcom history.

With this blog finally coming to an end, I must say that it has been a blast to relive the sitcoms that I watched from second grade through my junior year in high school.  There were only three networks and there was no VCR.  The syndicated reruns in the afternoons and on weekends were made up of the rural, family, and  fantastical sitcoms of the sixties.  And growing up in South Texas, the only fifties sitcom we saw in reruns was "I Love Lucy."  So I got the best of both worlds:  I got to enjoy the simple fun of the sixties while concurrently taking in the progressive and topical sitcoms of the seventies.  I didn't always understand the humor but, in retrospect, I feel that I learned so much about life--at a time when the turmoil of the sixties was morphing into the moral crises of the seventies--from Norman Lear.  Garry Marshall and his ABC takeover in the later part of the decade was also something I experienced viscerally--the excitement of the youth-oriented dynamic and, well, going through puberty it didn't hurt to have the T and A element.  I didn't appreciate the MTM library until later in life but still remember the warm feelings of the real characters in their cosmopolitan settings.  As I got busy with graduation from high school and life in college in the early eighties, I was too distracted to pay much attention to sitcoms....I did follow the news, "Hill Street Blues," "Star Trek" reruns, SCTV and this new David Letterman show.  Fortunately, I found time to check in with the Cosby/NBC sitcom revolution in the eighties and  renewed my sitcom fanaticism with NBC's new Must See sitcoms in the 90's with "Seinfeld" and "Friends" leading the pack.  While those could be as funny if not more so than the seventies, they lacked a certain sophistication.  They were well-written and expertly acted--especially compared to the staginess of the videotaped predecessors.  But the ironic tone and casual morality seemed to make these shows less endearing to me.  And with the self-aware  and mean-spirited material in comedy in the 2000's--along with a nostalgia that referenced all the classics I have documented to the point of a derivative meta-experience--it was much more satisfying to sit back with a DVD of Bob Newhart or the Bunkers and still find new places to laugh and revel in a special time:  political confusion, a mid-life crisis of disco and loud suits, pre-political correctness but post-sugar coated sentimentality, and in my humble opinion, a portrayal of a flawed humanity that was honest, sometimes tragic, mostly humorous--just like life.  Thanks for watching!!

Before saying:

I will say:



"You're Gonna Make It After All!"

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