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Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Top Five.

Okay, sports fans, here we go!

I've already written fairly extensively about it.
It's negatives are Jerry's inability to act convincingly, and the buy that you have to make that any character could quite easily run into any other character within the Metropolitan area of New York without it seeming to matter that it smacks of major coincidence.
But, as is true of every entry in the Top Five, it is gut-busting funny.
I place this entirely at the doorstep of Larry David.
"Seinfeld" was a mastery of story architechture, and Larry David is the Frank Lloyd Wright of sitcoms.
He managed to take four story lines in each episode, weave them together, and build a pyramid out of them, placing the final block on top at the end, much like one would put a maraschino cherry on top of a beautifully formed cake.
One of the results of this is that you can watch a rerun of "Seinfeld" and not recall that a particular story line was in that episode.
It was never not funny.
When it wasn't slugging you with roundhouse rights, it was peppering you with jabs.
It really never missed.

Two And A Half Men.
Probably makes me laugh harder and more consistently than any other show currently on television.
I don't miss Charlie Sheen at all.
To me, it never was about Charlie Sheen.
It was always about great, punchy, imaginative storytelling and dialogue.
Chuck Lorre's best work so far.

Curb Your Enthusiasm.
A real high wire act.
Larry David working without a script.
A real further tribute to his architechtural abilities.
I'm in awe of the process, and how hard he can make me laugh with it.
He is a major comedic presence.
And it scares me how much I am like his character in real life.
Unlike "Seinfeld" and "Two and a Half Men", this is one show where the star can not walk away from it successfully.

The Dick Van Dyke Show.
The first show to successfully work well in two arenas: the office, and at home.
And you wanted to go to both places.
It was one of two shows that had a great Show Runner and a great star. Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke.
It had the license, which it used liberally, to have the characters sound like comedy writers, and not cause there to be a layer of believeability missing.
That's because they WERE comedy writers.
When Van Dyke was at home, they pretty much stuck to character writing.
And you had Mary Tyler Moore in those Capri pants.
What more could a young adolescent lke myself want?

Sergeant Bilko.
The other show that had a great Show Runner and a great star.
Nat Hiken and Phil Silvers.
And I think they were both more overtly great.
Never was there a show with more positive energy.
I am in awe of Nat Hiken for another reason: years later, I was in a position to cast the sitcoms I worked on.
We brought in all the old Bilko regulars to read for me at one point or another.
The only one we used consistently was Billy Sands, who played Private Papparelli.
But we also brought in people like Joe E. Ross and Al Lewis.
How Nat Hiken was able to drag acceptable, much less hilarious performances, out of them, is beyond me.

Phil Silvers was really in his prime, and Hiken gave him pretty much free rein to improvise within the context of tremendously well-crafted scripts, and he only improved upon them.
They shot thirty-nine episodes a year for five years, and to my recollection, only slightly missed on maybe two episodes.
What a tremendous batting average!
And what a high slugging percentage!
The largest overwhelmingly positive output in sitcom history.
There is no show that I would rather watch, even though I have seen them all over and over again.
Most of the others, at this point, I have no reason to go back to.

So that's it.
Feel free to disagree and express yourselves about the overall list.
Just be aware that I'm not easily swayed.


I'm on my way to Chicago for the Hollywood Collector's Show, and will be away from my computer until next Tuesday.
Hope to see you all then.



  1. I disagree with you strongly about MASH and CHEERS, but I respect you that bucked the received wisdom and put them down as "dishonerables". By doing that, you made this whole exercise unpredictable, and unpredictability always makes for better reading.

    Personally, I would have put MASH and CHEERS on the Honerable Mentions list. I can't put MASH in the Top 10 because I think in its final two or three seasons it ceased being a sitcom and became a drama with occasional comedy relief.

    Liked the fact that you included sitcoms that were only on a short time, like THE TONY RANDALL SHOW.

    I'm surprised BARNEY MILLER was never mentioned, either as an Honorable or Dishonorable. Is that one you never saw?

    As for your own shows, THE ODD COUPLE would have made my Top 10. Not HAPPY DAYS, as I think that went down hill after the fourth season (and that fourth season was not without flaws. The Pinky Tuscedaro three-part season opener was much ado about nothing.) LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY? I like it for about the first half of its run. That merits an honorable mention. SHE'S THE SHERIFF? Sorry, never saw it. Didn't even know you were involved with it until I started reading this blog.

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  3. That should be "I respect that you bucked the received wisdom". Also had trouble spelling "honorable".

  4. I guess I was never that big a fan of "Barney Miller". Primarily because it was a cop show that pretty much just dealt with Funny Crime at a time and an area where there was a lot of serious crime. So it smacked of unbelieveable to me.
    "Car 54" also just dealt with Funny Crime, but it was of a time and in a neighborhood (My old neighborhood in the Bronx, as it happens) that was pretty safe.
    "She's The Sheriff" took place around the Lake Tahoe area. No serious crime there to speak of.
    Yet we did do an episode where one of the regular officers shot and killed a man.
    It was dealt with pretty seriously.
    The show that I'm usually hounded about for not including is "30 Rock". Sorry, but it never makes me laugh. It spends too much time being clever. I need more than clever.
    When I'm asked about it at lectures, and I offer my negative opinion of it, I'm usually met with "Thank God! I thought I was the only one!"
    I was much happier with my own shows when I was working on them, which coincides with when you enjoyed them, but I still can't rate them any higher than Honorable Mention, considering what they are up against.

  5. I just realized that I left out what would actually be #3 on my list: Fawlty Towers.
    Sometimes I can't read my own writing, and it somehow got lost in the shuffle.
    John Cleese was brilliant, as was the writing.
    Side-splittingly funny. Too bad they only made twelve episodes of it.
    It's a shame I have to bump the Honeymooners from the Top Ten, but that's show business.

  6. Mark,
    Thanks for an interesting list, with some truly unusual picks in there. But I cannot accept any sitcom top-ten list that doesn't include The Odd Couple! If I could make it to Chicago I would come to the collector's show just to shake your hand, for playing a part in that show's hilarity. By the way, to expand on one of your Seinfeld comments, people also seem to run into each-other quite often on Curb Your Enthusiasm. This is much more unlikely in Los Angeles, where everyone drives everywhere and their feet never touch the pavement. Or is Beverly Hills so tight-knit that celebrities really do bump into one-another at the dry cleaners?

  7. I think I would have swapped The Larry Sanders Show with Two and a Half Men.

    I completely agree with your thoughts on Larry David. Watching Seinfeld now, I think George and Jerry were really different versions of Larry. I can hear his voice doing both characters dialogue.

    Overall, I think you did your usual great job keeping us guessing which shows would make the cut.


  8. Maybe it's not such a bad thing Fawlty Towers ran for only 12 episodes. Seems like one of the things that kills sitcoms (and TV dramas for that matter) is that the successful ones overstay their welcome, sometimes going off the air long after whoever was the creative force behind it has moved on. Of course, Johm Cleese WAS the creative force behind Towers. I guess he just said what he had to say, and figured to say anything else would spoil it.

    Interesting that the BBC has a system in place where a successful show is allowed to expire after 12 episodes if the creator wishes it. Also, I believe that show originally ran TWO season, the first six in one, and the second six in the other, with a whole year in between them!

  9. There were FOUR years in between the two 6-episode "Fawlty Towers" seasons.



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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."