Saturday, November 22, 2014

My Seventies Sit-Com Studies Part 2

It's been a couple of weeks since my first post about the way television has changed since the 1970s. Let me start out this 2nd post in the series with a story. 

A 14 year old boy sits on a couch watching out the living room window of his parent's house. In darkness of a late fall evening he can see the smattering of lights from the street lamps and other homes in his small town. Looking at his watch he realizes that it's been almost an hour since his phone call. By his estimation he should be seeing the headlights of a vehicle that will bring him the first of his companions for this cool November Saturday night.

Soon a car with a magnetic sign on the driver's side door reading "Pizza Como Delivery" pulls up to the house. In a quick minute the transaction with the driver is complete and the teenager carries the first pizza ever delivered to his house to the dinning room table. 

He opens the box top, pulls one of the 8 slices, from the16 inch sausage and mushroom pie onto a paper plate and heads back toward his favorite spot in the living room.  

His parents were out visiting friends, his sister was spending the night with a cousin. He loved it when the stars aligned and he could spend some time at home alone. It didn't happen often but the feeling of independence made him feel more grown up than he actually was at the time. 

It was almost 8 o'clock and his plans for the evening were about to commence. The weekly local news magazine program on TV station WCAU out of Philadelphia was concluding on the television across the room. His other companions was about to join him. 

"This is CBS" the announcer proclaimed just after the station switched over to the network feed. A second later another announcer sounded the verbal trumpet to let the TV games begin: "From Television City In Hollywood."

On the 19 inch TV screen came actors Carroll O'Conner and Jean Stapleton. They were in character and sitting at a piano. They began singing: "Those Were The Days" the iconic theme song to one of the most controversial and popular 1970s sit-com, All In The Family. 

Over the next 3 hours the young middle school student would consume that entire pizza and enjoy what he would one day consider to be the best night of network television in broadcast history. 

While a teenage boy spending a Saturday night alone in front of a television gorging himself on pizza may seem a bit strange or even weird to many, for him its still a memory he treasures 40 years later. I know because that was me. 

The mid 1970s Saturday night CBS lineup started out with the life and times of Archie and Edith Bunker and then moved on to Korea circa 1950 for a glimpse at life inside the 4077th army surgical hospital on M*A*S*H. The 9 o'clock hour was filled with a pair of comedies produced by MTM Enterprises: The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart show.

The evening ended with the crown jewel of the night, The Carol Burnette Show. The show began with Miss Burnette coming out on stage to welcome the studio audience and answer a few of their questions. 

What followed was an hour of comedy sketches, movie parodies, and guest stars performances. The show concluded with the entire cast (including: Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner, and, most of the time, Tim Conway)  back on stage to say "good night" by joining in as Carol sang the closing theme "I'm so glad we had this time together." Burnette would then tug on her ear as a personal greeting to her grandmother and the show would end. It was by far the best and funniest hour on TV. 

Thus ended what I think is the single best night of television ever. A group of programs I enjoyed so much it was worth staying home on Saturday nights to watch. 

Back then there was no home video, DVRs or online streaming service; there wasn't even VCRs, yet. So if you wanted to see a show you had to be in front of a TV when it was broadcast. 

I didn't spend every Saturday night alone eating pizza. My parents or my cousin, Gary were most likely the ones with me while I watched Archie, Hawkeye, Mary, Bob, Carol and all their friends. 

I didn't know then but my loyalty to this block of programs would be my initial study in TV comedy performance, writing, character development, and story telling. 

Not only was I entertained, I believe I was educated in how to make people laugh. Watching every week was my "freshman year" in Seventies Sit-Com studies. 

During the last half of the decade that CBS lineup would lose their place as TV comedy kings to Garry Marshall's ABC sit-coms. I would learn from them too. 

In my next post I will discuss what I have recently learned about that line up of CBS shows and the people involved in producing and starring in them. 

But now you understand why I am so emotionally invested in them. They are part of my personal history. Like many in the first "TV generation" the characters who came into my life through the television screen weren't just actors playing a part. They were my friends. More on this later. 


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