Friday, March 9th, 2012

Yes, Dear < Taxi: What Older Shows Would You Like to See on TV Again?

Erik Adams wrote an interesting article for the A.V. Club yesterday, called, “Is television a medium without a past?” It’s about how while the film and music industries keep looking to the past for inspiration, to the point where original ideas feel shocking, TV doesn’t work the same way. He writes, “The most visible outlets for second-run TV programming are no longer interested in series that premièred before Seinfeld.” TBS, TNT, TV Land, Nick at Nite – their afternoon and primetime schedules are packed with episodes of Home Improvement, The King of Queens, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Family Guy, Boy Meets World, Yes, Dear, etc. (It is possible to find a sitcom from the – shock! – 1970s on those networks, but usually only very early in the morning or very late at night.) Some of those sitcoms were amusing at times, but unless you’re an ironic contrarian who gets off on aggravating people, it’s hard to make a point that Boy Meets World really “matters” in the grand scheme of TV history. (Except for Joey the Rat.)

My question to you is: what older, syndicated sitcoms would you like to see on TV again? Think of this way: instead of a repeat of The Big Bang Theory on FX at 9:30 p.m tonight, you’d rather see _________. Leave your comments below. And if any of you monsters say Alf, so help me God-of-Melmac…

Get Smart, 1965-1970
Considering the recent success of spy-spoof Archer, the strongest sitcom on TV not named Community, Parks and Recreation, and Louie (which is not as much of a mixed compliment as it sounds) and that the (disappointing) movie based on the show grossed over $230 million in 2008, I guess it would only make too much sense to start airing old episodes of Get Smart again. Everyone loves Mel Brooks, though not as many people associate this show with him as they do Blazing Saddles or The Producers, and it ran for five seasons, so there are plenty of episodes. Also, the humor’s largely slapstick, meaning there’s no need to worry about any of the jokes feeling dated. Just don’t bring back the 1995 remake, starring Andy Dick…shudder.

The Honeymooners, 1955-1956
I just finished watching the “Classic 39” episodes of The Honeymooners on DVD, and let me tell you: baby, it's the greatest. Pretty much every trope we’ve come to recognize was first used on The Honeymooners, which is partially why the show holds up so well 60 years after it first premiered; nothing feels stale, because literally everything was new when it was first done by Ralph Kramden, his wife Alice, and Ralph’s best friend, Ed Norton. Ralph, in particular, is the prototype for every overweight idiot husband with a gorgeous spouse, but unlike, say, Jim Belushi or Kevin James, Jackie Gleason was able to pull of the role because he was just so damn likable. He could make you laugh even when he was threatening to hit everyone he loved so hard, they’d go straight to the moon. RIGHT IN DA KISSA.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show, 1970-1977
If more people had seen repeats of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on, say, TNT, rather than episodes of Family Matters, fewer *^&%^*$% idiots would have been so surprised that women could be funny too (!??!) when Bridesmaids came out. Mary Tyler Moore – which Tina Fey used as an inspiration for 30 Rock – didn’t treat its viewers like idiots, unlike so many of its schedule mates in the early 1970s, like The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and other shows not about singing families, and that’s why it’s still relevant today. We need spunk! (That doesn’t as gross in the context of the show, I swear.)

Taxi, 1978-1983
Type in "Taxi" on IMDb, and the classic sitcom of the same name, starring Judd Hirsch and Danny DeVito, is the fourth listing to appear, after Taxi Driver, that terrible Taxi movie with Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah, and the French movie that it was based on, also called Taxi. I know that doesn't REALLY mean anything, but it still feels like a slight against one of the strongest ensemble workplace sitcoms of all-time. It’s also a little baffling reruns aren’t on TV more (TV Guide shows no listings over the next two weeks, in fact): it’s got DeVito, who "younger" people adore because of The Lorax, I mean, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and a burn-out played by Christopher "Doc Brown" Lloyd and the eternally fascinating Andy Kaufman; it’s gritty looking, and never overly nostalgic about working for a cab company in 1970s Manhattan; and it’s about working at a job, not because you want to but because you have to (a timeless theme). How about we replace every episode of Cash Cab with SEVEN episodes of Taxi?

Mystery Science Theater 3000, 1988-1999
Sure, it’s not THAT old, but TV could use more Mystery Science Theater 3000. Hell, if there was an entire dedicated to MST3K (and their likely could be, considering it was a 90 minute show that ran for 10 seasons and nearly 2000 episodes – and a movie!), I would never not watch it. Unless that Simpsons network came to be, in which case my DVR would fill up in about a day. I need to be able to watch The Final Sacrifice whenever I want to.

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  • Tobias Aplin

    Yes, Dear was such a great show and this is coming from someone who hates the whole family based sitcom idea, but for some reason I love it.

  • I'm Gary@twitter

    Small Wonder

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Mischnick/699648889 Michael Mischnick

    Here are several that I watched a lot as a kid (or teen, or young adult) that I think everyone needs to have seen:
    1) All in the Family – weird that your article leads with a picture of Archie Bunker, but you don't mention the show
    2) I Love Lucy – yes, Lucy was prominent in the recent "Best Sitcom Ever" tournament, but it's relatively early exit shows that today's viewer needs to catch up with this show. Just the "classic" episodes of "Lucy Does a Television Commercial," (vitameatvegamin!), "Job Switching" (eating the chocolates), "Lucy's Italian Movie" (stomping the grapes), and "Lucy is Enceinte" (Lucy tells Ricky she's pregnant) are four of the best TV episodes of all time
    3) MASH – yes, it's a little lame at times, and not quite as "zany" funny as many other sitcoms, but it's still a good example of how comedy can often better examine the "bigger questions" than drama
    4) The Muppet Show – I shouldn't have to explain to anyone why this belongs on this list
    5) Cheers – sure, it's from the 80s, so it might be a little too new, but it is my personal favorite non-Simpsons sitcom of all time
    6) The Dick Van Dyke Show – there would have been no "Mary Tyler Moore" show without Dick Van Dyke showing how funny Mary could be
    7) The Carol Burnett Show – one of the funniest women in the history of comedy
    8) The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart – Another underappreciated comedy giant.
    9) Soap – stupid and ridiculous, but always fun
    10) My Three Sons – certainly one of the weaker shows on this list, but still pretty good.
    11) Sanford & Son – "I'm Coming Elizabeth!"

    There are probably several more, but I like these.

    • Kenneth Toilet Hole

      @Michael Mischnick I also was wondering why the photo of Archie was chosen to go with this article, but the reason why I was wondering was because (at least where I live, anyways) All in the Family reruns never went off the air.

      Same with a lot of the other shows you mentioned – there's a channel called Antenna TV that runs on digital antenna and cable plans where you get 100+ channels. The whole channel is nothing but almost every show you listed (I think they show everything but Cheers and Muppet Show, which can be found on other channels).

  • Megh Wright


    • beermestrength

      @Megh Wright I would watch the shit out of Perfect Strangers if it was on again. I actually saw Bronson Pinchot in something recently and exclaimed "Balki!" to which my wife replied "Who?" It took everything I had not to whip out divorce papers.

      I would agree with almost everything on this list (with the possible exception of MST3K…I just don't have the time to commit to an hour and a half long show) but would most like to see Taxi come back. Such a strong cast.

  • http://twitter.com/joshung Joshua Ungerleider

    Definitely Get Smart. Besides the success of Archer, just think of the three Austin Powers movies. Those three have done well despite sharing only a single script between them.

    In general though, even "great sitcoms" have a hard time aging well when there are so many episodes. Even a three hour "old movie" isn't that much a an investment in time compared to watching all of Taxi.

    Also, a lot of old shows, even if their jokes aren't dated, have probably been ripped off enough to the point where the jokes won't be as funny because they aren't the first time you heard them. My parents made we watch the Taxi episode with the "slow down" joke, but it had been redone so many times elsewhere, I didn't nearly find it as funny as somebody who watched the show when it originally aired.

  • SugarSmak@twitter

    I agree with Michael regarding The Muppet Show, Carol Burnett and Bob Newhart. I also loved Bosom Buddies and Square Pegs (although I have the box sets of both of these series, I'd watch them if they aired on TV – kind of like how I end up watching the movie Sixteen Candles every single time I come across it on the dial.)

    As for other shows, I loved Phyllis, Laverne and Shirley, Three's Company and One Day at a Time (I'd really love to see that turn up on TV Land).

    In light of the recent (tragic) loss of Davy Jones, I'd love to see The Monkees back on the small screen. I never grew tired of that show. Of course, I am a major nostalgia junkie. I listen to mostly the music I grew up with (70s era rock, Frampton, Journey, etc.) and love to see the old shows – not to say that I don't enjoy some of the new sitcoms (Parks & Rec, Community, HIMYM, New Girl, Raising Hope, Archer, Sunny)…

    • Francis Rizzo III@twitter

      @SugarSmak@twitter The Monkees airs on AntennaTV. There may be a channel near you (it shares a digital channel in many markets.)

  • ted whalen@twitter

    What, do you not have Me-TV where you live? http://metvnetwork.com/programs.php

  • A Good Question

    Gotta be Barney Miller. Everything about that show clicked. I don't even know if MeTV carries it.

    Taxi, that gets a vote too. And I enjoyed Dobie Gillis and the Patty Duke show back when TV Land ran them.

  • Chris Morgan@twitter

    Well, you said Get Smart, which was my first thought when reading this piece's headline, and you threw in MST3K as well, although you say it had nearly 2000 episodes, which is merely a typo, but one that greatly changes the scope of what you are saying. Also, there are a ton of MST3K's on Netflix.

    Honestly, I can't think of another sitcom that would likely hold up (with an apology to my childhood love of Welcome Back, Kotter) that hasn't been named already. Good work, everybody.

  • bobkipper

    Definitely Barney Miller. That is one of my favorite shows. TV Land used to run it all the time, but ever since they became the Everybody Loves Raymond network, they have been pretty terrible. I'd also love to see some more Petticoat Junction. I have no idea how well it has held up, but I loved the shit out of it when I was a little kid. It used to always be on before school. If I got up early enough I could catch two whole episodes! Jeepers!

    And I just remembered Gomer Pyle, USMC. Probably a pretty lame show, but I have a soft spot for it since it used to be on TV Land on Sunday mornings. I would frequently fake being sick to get out of church, so TV ended up being my primary religion. No regrets.

  • http://anthonycomedy.wordpress.com Anthony Scibelli

    "The Odd Couple." Jack Klugman was good and everything, but Tony Randall…What a talent. He could effortless elevate any material he was given. If we're expanding this to cartoons (and why shouldn't we?), there's "Rocky & Bullwinkle" and "Underdog."

  • Ava Adore

    The problem with reairing all the episodes of MST3K is that they lost the license to a lot of movies which is why there are no complete season sets of MST3K. Thankfully, because they encouraged it back in the day with tape trading, you can easily find those episodes but they aren't in the best quality. I wish there were a "ton" of MST3K episodes on Netflix, but there isn't as they've been slowly taking them down.

  • Francis Rizzo III@twitter

    I'd love to watch Grand again. No DVDs, no streaming (as far as I've found.) Great cast with Pamela Reed, Bonnie Hunt, Michael McKean and Sara Rue.

  • P Bu

    About 10 years ago, TV Land got adventurous in its weekend late-night programming and started airing shows that didn’t have the 100 episodes typically needed for syndication like Fernwood 2Nite and Tabitha, the Bewitched spin off. I had long heard of Fernwood 2Nite but had never seen it, so I made a point of recording and watching the episodes TV Land showed. I wish it would do that again. I’d like to see other, even older shows that I’ve heard of but not seen like Ernie Kovacs’s shows, Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, and Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life, but I understand that some of them cannot be shown simply because they don’t exist anymore.

    I recognize that it’s a musical rights-related pipe dream, but I’d love to see unedited episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati. WGN was showing it on Sunday nights awhile back, but I’m pretty sure that they were edited for more time for commercials and to remove music for which the show no longer had the rights.

    Save for a few clips, talk shows seem to disappear too easily. On a whim, I watched old Letterman clips of Larry “Bud” Melman on YouTube last week and wished there were more talk shows like Carson, Paar, and even Steve Allen era Tonight Shows to see. I think AMC was airing Dick Cavett shows a year or two ago, and I really enjoyed watching some of them.

  • Rob

    Yep. Mary Tyler Moore, Odd Couple, Muppets, Get Smart all solid choices. Even some of the MTM spin-offs, if you really want get funky (although Lou Grant is technically a drama.) Basically anything with James L. Brooks involved (MTM and Taxi both qualify.)

    Letterman reruns from the 80s were on Trio for a while and they were great. It may be shocking to anyone who sees the cranky disengaged 2012 version how really good he could be.

    Hey, I love Seinfeld too. But how much of it can people watch?