The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)
It’s practically a function of autocorrect at this point: you type “Mel Brooks,” the word “legend” pops up automatically. You don’t need me to tell you about his storied career spanning decades and covering such diverse media as the most successful live television show of its day, Your Show of Shows, successful film after film, records with partner Carl Reiner, the single-camera sitcom, the smash Broadway hit The Producers, and on and on. So, I’m not going to. He’s funny. You already know him. We’re done with that part. Let’s get to the fun part.
Today we’re looking at Mel’s second attempt at a sitcom. His first was Get Smart, which he co-created with the similarly legendary Buck Henry, and, true to form, was wildly successful. It went on for 138 episodes over 5 seasons, launched a number of catchphrases, and expertly satirized sixties spy culture. Mel, however, didn’t have an awful lot to do with the show after its formation. He launched the boat, and then happily waved from shore. He then went on to a streak of hits, directing and either writing or co-writing The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein, before deciding to dip his toe back into television where he got his start.
The show was called When Things Were Rotten, and was Brooks’ first journey to a well that he would travel to again a few decades later. Running for only 13 episodes in 1975, the show was a parody of the legend of Robin Hood, and is simply dripping with Mel Brooks’s flair. Sight gags, one-liners, and jokes playing on anachronisms are constantly flying at the audience at a breakneck pace unlike anything else on TV at the time. The show launches into a very Brooksian theme song which exclaims, “"They laughed, they loved, they fought, they drank / They jumped a lot of fences / They robbed the rich, gave to the poor / Except what they kept for expenses!” READ MORE