Saturday, April 19, 2014

Organic vs. nonorganic TV love interests

"Big Bang Theory" has this in common with "MASH:" Neither were hits until they went into syndication (or in "Big Bang's" case syndication and heavy rotation on TBS.). Once audiences got hooked on these really great shows, they turned to the network for original episodes.

(Getting off the topic of my post for a second: The ironic thing is "Big Bang" deserves the attention, it's a much funnier show now than it was in its first season. "MASH" on the other hand got worse and worse, and the characters more shrill and forced with each progressive season. As the ratings went up, it got more preachy and less funny).

Back on topic: When a show runs a long time though it's necessary to bring in a love interest for the main characters. There are two ways to go about this, organic and nonorganic. "Big Bang" did it organically. Several girlfriends have come and gone, and neither Mayiam Bialyk nor Melissa Rauch were supposed to become regulars, yet, they were so good, and their characters were so funny, they just had to become full-timers. It was organic.

Another good example of this is Kelsey Grammer in "Cheers." Once again, he was never supposed to be a regular. Yet his character served as such a great elite snobby counterweight to the blue collar regulars, they had to keep him. That and he nailed every line.

(Another leap off topic: watch his first season of "Cheers" and the first season of "Frasier" and you'll see that while Grammar toned down the fussbudget intellectualism, David Hyde Pierce picked it up. Pierce is playing Frasier from his first season on "Cheers.")

So what's an example of nonorganic?

Fonzie's girlfriend Pinky Tuscadero.

The show had been on for years, Fonzie was the center of a cultural phenomenon; the producers, having run out of story ideas long ago, decided Fonzie needed a girlfriend.

The press was alerted.

They would hold nationwide auditions. The character would be cool and tough enough to go head to head with the Fonz. ABC kept this story alive in the newspapers the summer before the season premier.
Roz Kelly would be the lucky (not really) actress. Publicity pictures were released.

And…it sucked.

No one liked her, no one liked her character, it seemed forced, and after a few episodes she was promptly forgotten.

This is of course hindsight talking, but they should have done what "Big Bang" would later do and have given him a different girlfriend every six episodes and hire full-time the one that clicked with the cast and America.

Can you have a character who's too organic?

Yes. Michael J. Fox's Alex on "Family Ties" was the Fonzie of the '80s. Like Henry Winkler, he was never supposed to be the star of his show, but by shear talent and charisma they both became the breakout stars. After several years though, the producers knew he needed a girlfriend too. And they got Tracy Pollan. The character didn't necessarily become a hit with the viewers, but Michael J. Fox liked the actress enough to marry her, she quit the show, and was replaced with Courtney Cox.

That's an example of too organic.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book review: Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin

Who better to write a biography of Johnny Carson than Carson's own fixer. For nearly 20 years Bushkin was the guy Johnny called in the middle of the night to help him hide the bodies. Not literally, but when he was in a jam … bad contract, bad marriage, bad obligation (professional or personal) Bushkin was the guy who did the dirty work.

We get a glimpse of one of the most private celebrities of the 20th century; he was a mean drunk, a serial womanizer, and had so much animosity to his own mom that he skipped her funeral; but little else really. There's little about the day-to-day business of the Tonight Show (Bushkin prided him self on keeping his mouth shut when at tapings), and more on the contract negotiations, playing chicken with NBC, and trips to Europe, which he enjoyed because he could walk down the street and be unbothered by fans.

If you ever envied the job of being Johnny Carson, this book might set you straight. He had millions of dollars but an equal number of people in his strata with their hand out. He had wives and mistresses, but in the end, he died alone. He ultimately cut off all real and for-pay friends.

There's a funny passage about how he had no respect at all for Fred Silverman and his programming skills (fair enough, though he made genius decisions at CBS and ABC, his programs at  NBC were at best head-scratching ("Pink Lady & Jeff"). Then when Carson got a big contract to produce shows for NBC, he could do no better.

In the end, Bushkin describes their professional and personal break-up in the sketchiest of terms. One leaves with the feeling there was something much bigger going on than the explanation he gave.

Despite the gaps, it's still a must-read for fans.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Film review: Mr. Peabody & Sherman

What a fun time at the movies. It starts out strong and loses a little momentum once it hits Florence, but there's enough going on to keep grown-ups, their children, and fans of the original TV show happy. No fidgeting from my 6 year old.

And the best part is: No princesses!

The standout: Patrick Warburton as Agememnon; he gives a little two-minute rant which will keep you laughing the whole time.

The stumble: Their solution to the character-showing-up-twice-in-same-time conundrum disturbed my son. This has been a problem since "Back to the Future." DC Comics in the '60s had the right idea. It cannot be done!