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Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Top Five Honorables.

As we head into the Top Five Honorable Mentions before we get to the actual Top Ten list, you'll see some rather exotic choices.
Without further ado:

It's A Great Life.
This is a show that probably most of you have never heard of.
It was on for two seasons on NBC in 1954 and 1955.
It was wonderfully funny.
I remember seeing it when I was in the fourth and fifth grade, and remember laughing my head off.
I also saw a whole lot of episodes of it on cable on something known as the Nostalgia Channel about ten years ago.
It was as funny as I remember it being in the fifties.
It starred Michael O'Shea, James Dunn, and William Bishop.
For the most part, not exactly household names.
Michael O'Shea made some minor movies, and had minor parts in major movies.
He was probably best known for being married to actress Virginia Mayo.
Michael O'Shea was a GREAT comic actor.
He talked with his hands.
In a most unique fashion.

James Dunn had won an Oscar ten years previously for his role as the father in "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn".
He was wonderful in that.
He was not required to be funny in that.
If not for "It's A Great Life", no one would have had any idea how funny he was.

William Bishop was the handsome straight man who was really just there along for the ride.

O'Shea and Bishop played WWII veterans who sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door.
For whatever reason (I never really knew) they were boarders at Earl and Amy Morgan's house.
James Dunn was Earl, usually called "Uncle Earl", and was the laziest cheapest man on earth.
Amy was Frances Bavier, creating the mold for Aunt Bee some five years later. But much funnier than Aunt Bee ever was.

It was as good as it was because of the writing.
It was run by two of the most unheralded writers ever in the trenches-----
Ray Singer and Dick Chevillat.
They were brilliant storytellers and dialogue writers.

My other primary contact with their work was on the Phil Harris-Alice Faye radio show.
Arguably the funniest radio show ever. Certainly the best written.
I'll make that argument, anyway.
And I'll write about it more extensively at some point.

There's an episode of "It's a Great Life" on YouTube, but for whatever reason, Michael O'Shea isn't in it.
So it's not one of it's best.
But it does capture the flavor of it, and most of all, it's almost breakneck pace.

I'm Dickens, He's Fenster.
John Astin and Marty Ingels teamed up as a pair of carpenters.
Both men are excruciatingly funny in it.
I think it only ran one or two seasons on ABC in the early sixties.
Leonard Stern, also responsible for the writing on "He and She", was in command here.
He did great work.

My first real taste of Ricky Gervais.
Very British, very realistic, extremely funny look at show business across the pond, from the point of view of some of it's least successful denizens.
Makes me wish I'd seen the British version of "The Office.

It's Garry Shandling's Show.
Broke the fourth wall in very much the same way they did on "Burns and Allen"
He must have been highly influenced by that show.
It was quite innovative in it's own way.
My favorite episode was one they did with Red Buttons as a guest star.
I will devote an entire post to Red Buttons at some point and describe what he did on this show.
But he was hilarious, as was Shandling with him.

The Larry Sanders Show.
Very much a breakthrough for how sitcoms could be done.
Hilarious on so many levels.
Realistic on so many levels.
Great cast, particularly Rip Torn and Jeffrey Tambor.
Really a borderline Top Ten choice.

Next time, the actual Top Ten begins, with #10 through 6.


My book, "Show Runner" and it's sequel,"Show Runner Two", can be found at the Amazon Kindle Store, You can search by typing in my name, Cindy Williams, Laverne & Shirley, The Odd Couple, or Happy Days.
You might want to check them out.
You don't need a Kindle machine to download them.
Just get the free app from Kindle, and they can be downloaded to an IPhone, IPad, or Blackberry.

The paperback, "Mark Rothman's Essays" is still available for people without Kindle. I have many readings and signings remaining, and the thing about Kindle is you can't sign one.

The website "On Screen & Beyond" has the second hour of a 2 hour interview I did on their podcast. The first hour is in their archives, and the second hour will be next week.
Just Google On Screen & Beyond to find it if you're interested.


1 comment:

  1. Dick Chevillat's name appears quite a bit on Green Acres. Since you prefer reality-based shows, I don't imagine it'll make your list, but it had some great absurdist humor. It tends to get lumped, unfairly, with other rural sitcoms of the 1960s.



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About Me

Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."