Friday, July 24, 2015


Evening Shade: the best ensemble ever

I’ve been doing the background checking for a community magazine article on television in the 60’s. There’s a lot to remember from that era – it’s all coming back to me in a rush of titles, theme songs, and sponsor jingles. They were the years of great dramas, westerns, sit-coms, and mysteries.

To me though, the best years of television were the years that gave us the great adult comedies. There was one thing Frank’s and my favorite shows had in common: they were wonderful “ensemble” shows starring some of the best actors. And, of course, there were no kiddies in the mix.  Barney Miller, M*A*S*H, and Taxi,– in alphabetical order because I couldn’t name my very favorite – in the 70’s, and later on shows like Evening Shade and Cheers were, in my opinion, the best of the best. The casts were peppered with Emmy, Tony, Golden Globe, and Academy Award winners and nominees. The shows didn’t feature star-wannabes, they featured the already established cream of the crop.

Where's Fish?
Barney Miller, almost every scene in a NYPD squad room, had Hal Linden and Abe Vigoda in the cast, along with Steve Landesberg who did that great Gregory Peck voice.
M*A*S*H, which ran for eleven years, starred Alan Alda, Harry “Horse Hockey!” Morgan, and Jamie Farr, among so many others. We were always wondering what getup Farr’s Klinger would be wearing next, and always waiting for Gary Burghoff’s Radar, grape Nehi in hand, to hear “Choppers!” Quick repartee was the show’s forte. 

M star A star S star H
Taxi – ah, what a crew. I have to say my favorite was Christopher Lloyd’s Iggy. I’ve always wondered how the screenwriters described or the director directed some of his scenes, they were absolutely hilarious but so serious. There was one scene, I’ll never forget, where Iggy was taking the written test for his driver’s license, and the guys were trying to help him with the answers. “What does a yellow light mean?” “Go slower.” So he asked the question again, pausing after each word: “What. Does. A. Yellow. Light. Mean?” He got the same answer and then went even slower. You had to be there. If you were here I could act it out, but you aren’t, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I haven’t got the words to describe it, but the writers did, and the scene was wonderful. Judd Hirsch, Marilu Henner in her pre-Evening Shade Days, and Danny DeVito led a great cast.

The whole Taxi crew
My favorite in the 80’s was Cheers. Can’t you just hear that theme song playing in your brain? “You wanna go where everybody knows your name.” Ted Danson, hunk that he was and still is to my way of thinking, and Rhea Perlman, kept bar regulars on their toes, kept the quips coming and kept them sharp. Oh, and I just loved Nick Colasanto’s Coach.

Hey there Coach!
Evening Shade, in the 90’s, is probably our favorite one of all time. Talk about a stellar cast - that was one of the best ensembles ever assembled. You did notice that there were a few children in the cast? Yes, but they were just passing through. Burt Reynolds, Marilu Henner, Hal Holbrook, Charles “Nuts, Woodrow!” Durning, Ossie Davis, Michael Jeter, and Elizabeth Ashley: a dream crew.

I can hear you say “What about some of the other comedies? What about Seinfeld, the Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Odd Couple, All in the Family? Et cetera, et cetera. Close, but no cigar. I watched many of the others, Frank didn’t care for them at all, but they were just “there”: I didn’t look forward to them each week, didn’t make sure not to schedule anything while they were on. There’s nothing about them I want to tell you I loved.

I have to round out what has become a rather lengthy essay by mentioning some of my favourite Brit-coms that were airing during those last years of the last century. No question about it, the British had us beat in the comedy department. Many of their shows were given a twist and produced over here under new names. Think of Sanford and Son, Three’s Company, and All in the Family.

No, no, no, no, yes!
Thank heavens for PBS! We watched The Good Neighbors faithfully. Talking to God and One Foot in the Grave were two other favourites. Dawn French’s The Vicar of Dibley was marvelous, and Emma Chamber’s Alice was the perfect foil for her. We did love Trevor Peacock too: “No, no, no, no, yes!” The absolute best was Last of the Summer Wine. This show ran for over 37 years. We watched it from the late 70’s until we could no longer find it on any of the PBS stations where we lived. I’m sure it’s out there somewhere.

I’ll let you go now. It’s now close to 900 words since I started, but I tried to keep it short! If I don’t stop soon I’ll keep remembering more good stuff. Frank and I are no longer great TV fans, and we are surely not fans of anything comedic that has been on in the last decade or so. But that may just be because we are getting old and curmudgeonly.

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