Sunday, January 25, 2004


Five shows that certainly are better than Friends!

The NBC publicity department went a little bombastic this past week, with trailers for the season finale of Friends. Advising television watchers that history is just around the corner and not to miss the final episodes of the best comedy show ever on television. Needless to say this caused an uproar around the industry, not to mention on the set of Frasier. It too is winding down it's run this season and all of a sudden feels like the unwanted waif, the who keeps hanging around the front door with a hand out. At any rate below are my selections for five shows that are far and above better than Friends.

1. ALL IN THE FAMILY-Ground breaking social satire, a terrific cast and the show that defied the censors, special interest groups and network executives. It was successful because we watched and understood where it was coming from. Humour helped to bridge the uncomfortable aspects of a society that was changing too fast for some, not fast enough for others. Carroll O'Connor took on a role of the bigoted Archie Bunker, middle aged America's divining rod and lightning rod. Jean Stapleton was his rock, Edith always there with a beer or an ear. The Show also provided millions of viewers with a whole new lexicon to work on, Meathead, Dingbat to name a couple of Archie-isms that managed to work their way into our vocabulary.

2. MASH-Could a television show help to end a war? Possibly, a war weary nation watched the Korean War unravel on M*A*S*H and knew it was actually about Vietnam. The senseless loss of life, the insane directives from HQ, the camaraderie of the doctors and nurses of the 4077th. It all flashed before us year after year. Beloved characters left explained away in tragic style, replaced by others who brought their own talents to a show highly acclaimed. It became a television show that eclipsed it's movie parentage, actors and actresses forever identified with their TV characters. It had a political opinion that was hard to miss, and at that time in a cynical America that opinion was almost Gospel. The best way to a viewers conscience apparently was through the funny bone.

3. THE HONEYMOONERS-To the Moon Alice, to the Moon. Perhaps the only place where the Kramden's and the Norton's weren't a household name. The show that was the career highlight of Jackie Gleason, his bus driver Ralph the hero of the common working man. From the hassles of the job to his crazy get rich schemes, we laughed along with Ralph and the long suffering Alice. His neighbours the ever present Norton's were there as well; equal part partner and tormenter. Week after to week audiences tuned in to see what insanity was to follow.

4. CHEERS-A place where everybody knew your name. An ensemble cast of folks just hanging out in a bar, making small talk, hatching plans, avoiding work. It provided one of the great love/hate relationships of television with Sam and Dianne. Spawned a spin off series featuring an uptight psychologist in Frasier and showed that sloth and laziness can actually pay off, right Norm! From the introduction to coach, Sam, Cliff, Norm and Carla, through Dianne, Frasier, Woody, Rebecca and Lilith we sat down at the bar and shared their exploits. If we had the cash, we would have bought the bar ourselves.

5. I LOVE LUCY-In 1951 a manic red headed woman and her Cuban bandleader husband arrived on television sets and seemingly never left. The Ricardo's opened the door to the house and when Ricky said; "Lucy I'm home" we all sat down to watch. Based on the state of married life of one of America's favourite female comedians, I Love Lucy was thirty minutes of non stop entertainment. As the Arnaz family grew in real life the family grew on television as well, family viewing time took on a whole new meaning with Lucille Ball. On a weekly basis we would sit back, wait and see what kind of trouble Lucy and Ethel could get themselves into. The show also made a little TV history, it was the first show to ever go into rerun. Which became a whole new money making adventure for the medium. The show lasted a decade on network tv and has been played somewhere on earth daily ever since.

I would gather that the apology letters have already gone out from NBC in Burbank. For while Friends may be a nice little comedy, it's a long way from the greatest of all time. No amount of PR spin can make a TV viewer think otherwise.

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