Monday, December 14, 2015

Blake Hunter, of WKRP in Cincinnati

Decades after his heyday, Blake Hunter remains one of my favorite sitcom writers, and like so many of my favorites (e.g., Bernard Slade on Bewitched, Charlotte Brown on Rhoda, David Pollock and Elias Davis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bud Wiser on One Day at a Time, Bob Bendetson on Newhart, Tucker Cawley on Everybody Loves Raymond), I love him for the scripts he wrote for a single show, in this case WKRP in Cincinnati. Hugh Wilson created WKRP, but Hunter was there all four seasons, and his scripts are the ones I still marvel at.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Knots Landing season 14

The great soap writer Ann Marcus was first brought aboard Knots Landing in 1981, to shore up the series after a shaky Season 2, and here's what she gave us in Season 3: Karen (Michele Lee, Emmy-nominated that season) coped with the death of her husband Sid; Abby, the vixen (Donna Mills), inserted herself into Val and Gary's marriage (that would be Joan Van Ark and Ted Shackelford); and long-suffering Laura, who'd left her jerk of a husband Richard, decided to return to him out of guilt and obligation.

With the series finally on firm footing, Marcus departed at the end of Season 3, and here's what happened over the following ten seasons, in 300 words or less:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Limitless and Madam Secretary: Welcome Home, CBS

Last January, in my year-in-review post, I made note of my "big break-up" with CBS, and my decision to start devoting more time to other networks. It's not like I'd been an exclusive CBS follower, heaven knows, but truly, since the early 1970's (and it probably began with The Mary Tyler Moore Show), I'd say 90% of the shows I watched were on CBS. I started to feel a certain "brand loyalty" to the Tiffany Network, with its "welcome home" slogan, and I'd invariably sample their new shows first, and stay with their shows longer. And as I look back on over four decades of TV viewing, I find that most of the shows that stick with me -- and often that I've chosen to write about here -- aired on CBS: from the aforementioned Mary Tyler Moore Show to WKRP to Knots Landing, from Newhart to Picket Fences to Everybody Loves Raymond, from Survivor to Cold Case to Mike & Molly. But as a viewer, it was hard to justify that brand loyalty after a while: not just because there was so much great television on other networks, but because the CBS luster was fading.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Three Things I'd Like Never to See Again on TV

1. The failed trip. I was re-watching an Old Christine the other night, and wanted to tear my (remaining) hair out. First, because it was an awful episode; second, because it was credited to two writers I really like; and third, because they should have known better than to write it in the first place -- because it's a premise that never works. It's the episode "Up in the Airport," and can I put in a motion now for A Plot I Never Want to See Again on TV? It's the one where a family -- or group of friends -- is set to go on a trip, but Something Goes Wrong. They get stuck in the airport and never take off (the aforementioned "Up in the Airport" or Designing Women: "The Odyssey"). Or they arrive at their destination, but immediately get sick and never leave the hotel (Designing Women: "Stranded" or Kate and Allie: "Evening in Paris") -- or they arrive, but fall asleep because of the time change and, again, never leave the hotel (Gilmore Girls: "French Twist").

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Sorry State of TV Villains

Greg Sumner: Abby, you don't believe in anything.
Abby Ewing Sumner: That's not true: I believe in money... and power... And in the end, power is much more fun."

When did TV villains stop being fun? What happened to the baddies who could delight us with the arch of an eyebrow, or the simplest of sinister inflections? When did subtlety become a lost art? All through the spring, I kept seeing Vincent D'Onofrio lauded for his turn as criminal mastermind Wilson Fisk in Daredevil -- Rolling Stone headlined him as "the best new villain on TV" -- even though his overblown performance trampled all story-line logic. Is that kind of garishness and ghoulishness what we now associate with great acting, or is there something deeper going on? Now that we feel less safe than ever -- in our churches, in our schools, in our movie theatres -- with hate groups on the rise and police departments committed to racial profiling and excessive force -- now that everything's hitting horribly close to home, is quiet menace simply too terrifying? Even on shows with "realistic" settings, do we need our villains to be grotesques, for our own comfort? There's probably better acting on television now than at any point in the past. But when it comes to the "bad guys" -- the ones whom we often found ourselves rooting for, despite ourselves, because they were so damned entertaining -- we're failing miserably. And Daredevil is a prime example.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Memoirs of a Gay Man (watching Knots Landing)

I posted the essay below at the Knots Landing Forum in the fall of 2011, just a few months before my husband birthday-gifted me this blog. Two friends whom I know from my days posting there suggested I reprint it here. Presuming you know Knots Landing, then all you need to know beyond that is that a poster at the Knots Forum, Montyc, had written a tongue-in-cheek post called "Is Knots Landing the Gayest Show Ever?" It inspired some spirited discussion, much of it equally amusing; a poster named Cambeck, a gay man, said he always felt like he'd be welcome on Seaview Circle, the Knots Landing cul-de-sac, and another poster, Sunshineboyuk, listed some of the show's most intolerant characters to prove him wrong. Ultimately, and sadly, some of the comments turned distinctly homophobic -- and the moderator closed the thread. I discovered it late in 2011, and decided to start my own follow-up post, one that was not tongue-in-cheek, but more autobiographical. And so I wrote:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Vicar-ious Thrills: the year in review

Last spring, CBS and I had an ugly break-up. You probably read about it; it made all the tabloids. First I grew disillusioned with Survivor, and quit watching after 14 years; at Entertainment Weekly, Dalton Ross called it the best cast of all-new players since the first season, but I found most of them clueless and/or odious, and where's the fun in that? (If it's clueless and odious I'm after, I'll turn on truTV.) Then Jeanne Tripplehorn was written off Criminal Minds, only to be replaced by the less talented -- but younger-skewing -- Jennifer Love Hewitt; no reason was given for Tripplehorn's departure, but her air time been shrinking for months, so you had to figure it was a network decision, dictated by the almighty demo dollar. And finally, CBS announced they were again holding Mike & Molly till midseason. You know, a loyal viewer can only take so much.