Tag Archives: Cheers

Finally, Barney Miller.

Finally, the entire classic series is available.

Barney Miller ranks right up there with Soap, Cheers, Taxi and the other great sitcoms of the 70s and 8os, although up until now it has gotten sold short in the home video market. Thanks to Shout Factory, yet another great blast from the past gets the proper treatment with a box set complete with extras.

I must admit I’m a little PO’d that they didn’t release the other seasons individually, but the reason is that Sony didn’t sell enough of the first three seasons to warrant releasing the remainder. But at the price – certain to dip a bit over time – I can buy the whole shebang cheaper than if I picked up the remainder of the shows year by year. Eight seasons and one hundred sixty-eight episodes plus commentaries, booklets and even the first series of Vigoda’s spin-off, Fish. That’s a great deal, even at list price.

Video: some early highlights

I won’t go overboard trying to sell you on the show; like most long-running programs there is enough video and commentary to let you make up your own mind. But it does give me a chance to tip my cap to a great ensemble who provided me with years of laughter over eight seasons: Hal Linden, Barbara Barrie, Abe Vigoda, Jack Soo, Ron Glass, Max Gail, Greg Sierra, James Gregory, Ron Carey, and my favorite, the late great Steve Landesberg. The parade of oddball guest stars in the precinct house also featured a bevy of now-recognizable actors.

So I guess my Dad (who loved the show) will be the beneficiary of my three seasonal box sets. Come October, I’m all in on Barney Miller.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Film/TV, Reviews

NBC Spikes The Ball

Back in the 80’s, Thursday Night was “must see TV” on NBC with the comedy block of The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers and Night Court  leading into Hill Street Blues. Later on, Seinfeld and Friends were anchors that bookended a myriad of other followers – some successful (Will and Grace, Frasier), some not (Joey, The Naked Truth). Eventually it seemed like the concept had run its course.

But it’s clear – at least in my house – that the comedy block of 30 Rock, Community, Parks and Recreation and The Office is and has been worthy of the “must see TV” crown. While it’s unclear how The Office will survive the loss of Steve Carrell, the final episodes provided many great options (including a genuine cliffhanger!) and it certainly has more gas in the tank. Ditto 30 Rock, which continues to be consistently well-written, although it’s becoming clear that some storylines are more dependable than others. But with a gaggle of recurring guest stars like Jon Hamm, Matt Damon and Dean Winters dropping by, brilliance is constantly right around the corner.

But this season proved that Community and Parks and Recreation can hang with the big boys. Community’s pop culture parodies are so clever and so deep that it takes multiple viewings to pick up every double-entendre, sight gag and trivial reference they’re layering into each script. And the cast on Parks and Recreation might just be the best comedy ensemble of them all; the show has skyrocketed after the growing pains of their inaugural season. Now we’re adding Whitney Cummings to the mix? Yowsa!

I’m going to have a lot more spare time now that these shows have completed their seasons, but it’s nice to know that among the annoying celebretard reality programs and the absurd elimination contest shows, there’s still room for well-scripted, well-acted prime time comedy. Kudos, NBC.

That's what HE said.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Editorials, Film/TV, Reviews

Second City, Twice

It’s probably just a coincidence that Eli and I were talking about SCTV the other day, because she had no way of knowing I had just picked up a couple of books about The Second City (one about the history of the theatre; the other about the television show).

I hadn’t planned on reporting for Jury Duty on the first day of Summer, but having been through the drill before I knew that I’d probably have to kill a little bit of time. As it turned out, it was a good thing I brought both books.

The first was one I had read before, an insider’s recollection by Dave Thomas about the show, the cast, and how it all came together called SCTV Behind The Scenes. Thomas weaves personal observations with interviews with others into an engaging narrative about the origins of the program as well as the camaraderie – and sometimes rivalries – between the cast members. In doing so he is unflinchingly honest about his own myopia and drive which sometimes placed him at odds with fellow actors and staff while trying to put the show first.

There’s a lot of inside peeks at the process of turning writing sessions into post-produced pieces for air; how despite comparisons to Saturday Night Live the shows were really apples and oranges; how dedicated behind-the-scenes people from makeup artists to producers were usually in way over their head but delivered anyway. Despite the incredible difficulties involved in staging and (mostly) selling the show, their ability to self-create in a vacuum without regard for ratings or network input led to what most of them consider the artistic peak of their careers.

Behind The Scenes is already fifteen years old but still a wonderful read and a must for any SCTV fan. It’s a vivid reminder of how blessed we were to have a company with such creative minds cranking out truly original material. There’s a great essay from Conan O’Brien where he describes the impact the show had upon him. He felt for the first time that a comedy program was speaking directly to him while refusing to dumb it down for the masses; it was a logic that he would carry forward and use in his own career. (And his story about first meeting John Candy is both funny and a heart-warming tribute to both men.)

Unscripted, written by Mike Thomas (A Chicago journalist, no apparent relation to Dave) is a 2009 book that presents a fascinating history of the Second City theatre framed within quotes from its creators and participants. Although the Chicago side of the story dominates – as it should – Thomas pays great tribute to the Toronto establishment and sheds light on the many road shows and other city-based affiliates.

If you’ve read Live From New York by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller – among the best tomes on Saturday Night Live – you’ll be familiar with the structure that Unscripted utilizes. Both authors conducted a bevy of interviews and weave quotes and anecdotes from the insiders to tell a chronological story. It’s an effective technique – as if a group of famous people are gathered in one room and they decided to tell you the history of their theatre in a round-robin format.

And we’re talking famous people.  A fifty year history, from early stars like Alan Arkin,  David Steinberg and Robert Klein to the recent TV pipeline of comedians Tina Fey, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert. Most of the better cast members from Saturday Night Live. Ensembles from classic sitcoms from Cheers to 30 Rock. Actors like Peter Boyle. Stand-up comics like Joan Rivers. Of course, many will gravitate towards the bittersweet stories of the departed legends John Belushi, Chris Farley, and John Candy as well as famous stars like Bill Murray and Mike Myers who parlayed their improv training into huge careers. The list of Second City alumni is daunting.

But Thomas also lets us get to know about important innovators like Del Close, Bernard Salkins, Andrew Alexander and Joyce Sloan, whose work behind the scenes saved the company many times over. It’s great storytelling, albeit using the words of others. I laughed out loud several times, caught up in everything from great backstage anecdotes to quotes that just killed me. (My favorite – one performer recalling that a sketch bombed so badly “you could hear a mouse shit!”)

It’s fun to read about Second City and its history, but it’s great to know we can take in a live performance and revisit the brilliant television show on DVD.

Info about Unscripted at the Mike Thomas webpage.

Dave Thomas Wiki page

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Film/TV, Reviews