Sunday, February 24, 2008

Best Nights of Television...in the US...over the last three, four decades...that I manage to remember...

This one's kind of another command performance, or suggested performance, from a line in Bill Crider's blog about how impressively, memorably good the 1972-73 CBS Saturday night lineup of programming (All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Carol Burnett Show) was. And it was, particularly if you, like me, were just eight when it was introduced. I'd mentioned how it was surpassed slightly for me by the local lineup in the Hartford CT/Springfield MA market in 1975, by which time CBS had already moved the first two half hours away from "family hour" and into slots on other nights, but the three remaining CBS shows gave way to the local PBS's run of Monty Python's Flying Circus in its first full run at 11pm, and that neatly fed into the first season of NBC's Saturday Night (Live) (three weeks a month, and the almost-as-good sly newsmagazine Weekend on the fourth week). The first hour on CBS by 1975 was given over to mostly forgettable but supposedly family-friendly sitcoms.

For me, there wouldn't be another full night of television nearly as satisfying till another local arrangement, the DC area's Friday nights in 1995-1996, which saw the local UPN station run the syndicated Babylon-5 at 8pm, The X-Files was offered on Fox at 9pm, and then Homicide: Life on the Street at 10pm on NBC. Though perhaps there was another contender for me on Friday nights in the southern New Hampshire/Boston market in 1978-79, which saw the local PBS stations offer Sneak Previews, The International Animation Festival (hosted by Jane Marsh), a rather good short film showcase hour whose title slips my mind (Short Subjects or something relatively generic like that, it was a national package), and a package of Janus Film Collection international classics that was tagged PBS Theater, at least as it appeared on WENH in Durham--I was first able to see The 400 Blows, Forbidden Games, Rashomon, and other impressive chestnuts thus.

Looking back at the national network schedules, it is notable how often one would have some difficulty finding consistently-good fare on any given night (and not infrequently have good shows pitched against each other, of course), but that doesn't take into account just how much more interesting and often impressive cable and syndicated fare was available, particularly around 2000-2002, which is in most ways the best two seasons US television has seen, and the last two, even with strike, haven't been too shabby, either (even given the inevitable tripe, around the millennium even much of the bubblegum was of a quality that would've shone like diamonds during most of the latter 1970s and early 1980s seasons...contrast the Annette O'Toole vehicle The Huntress or even the Xena knockoff Witchblade with the witless crap that was The Dukes of Hazzard or The Fall Guy or Charlie's Angels...Lou Grant, WKRP in Cincinatti, The Rockford Files, The Paper Chase, SCTV, and eventually Hill Street Blues and Cagney and Lacey could've used the company among the more intelligent shows kicking around in those years). But while there have always been at least some good series to watch...those who claim there's nothing get no sympathy from me, it's a bit like saying there's nothing good on radio or nothing good to read anymore...finding a single night where the Newsradio or Scrubs bright spots haven't been interspersed with Veronica's Closet dreariness or at best Wings competence has been very much a rare and temporary thing. Tuesday nights at 8pm ET were particularly ridiculous a few years back, wherein at least four or five regularly scheduled series I enjoyed, including PBS's Nova and the WB's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, were simulcast (I believe Newsradio was part of that stack, though beginning at 8:30pm on NBC, and the only interesting series on the then new Pax network, Mysterious Ways), while there were long stretches throughout the week wherein any of those series would've been quite welcome.

And then there're Sunday nights...where pay cable and often also the "basic" cable stations come out to play, and if there's something interesting on the broadcast nets as well...well, one can be glad that the cable stations almost always repeat everything so often...and the broadcast networks are doing the same with their Saturdays, particularly.

The closest to a fully satisfying night we've had in the last season has been Mondays on NBC, where the fine Chuck, the foundering but still watchable Heroes, and the brilliant and cancelled Journeyman were offered in the first months of the short season...

But, of course, I have to give a nod to Saturday afternoons in the Boston area in the early 1970s, when viewers of Channel 56 got to see repeats of The Outer Limits followed by the Creature Double Feature...a solid five-six hours of outre photoplay, ranging from utter cheese to quite good indeed. Warped my mind.

5 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

The amazing thing about that old Saturday lineup was that people stayed home to watch those shows. You had the phenomenon of the country sharing the experience, which I guess happens now with American Idol.

Todd Mason said...

And while that seems very sad, even I, who will not sit through more than a minute of IDOL, prefer it to some of the most sustainedly popular shows of the '60s and '70s...THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, GOMER PYLE USMC, THREE'S COMPANY, WHAT'S HAPPENING!, THE LOVE BOAT...*shudder*. At least IDOL also helped launch HOUSE, which I continue to enjoy (even if Sela Ward is sorely missed).

Speaking of HOUSE, Olivia Wilde joined the cast this season, and she is the daughter of a married pair of reporters who've worked together and separately, but she uses Oscar Wilde's surname as her stage name...which didn't seem absolutely necessary till I stopped reading her parents' name as it's actually prounounced ("Coburn") and noted how it's spelled (Cockburn). Though Cockburn is a good marquis name in some specialized forms of entertainment, I suspect...

Phillyradiogeek said...

Hey Todd, I'm finally ready to comment!

As much of a TV junkie as I've been all my life, I've had an amazingly difficult time trying to remember a solid block of time on a single night that's been consistently entertaining, at least not for three hours.

Friday nights on CBS come close for me, in the early 80s, which consisted of The Incredible Hulk at 8pm and the "witless" Dukes of Hazzard at 9. Neither of these shows, looking back, were, for lack of a better term, "good," but for this then-6-year-old, was a fantastic way to start the weekend. You'll be happy to know, Todd, that my wife can't stomach Dukes for even two minutes anymore even though she too loved it as a kid.

Saturday nights on ABC were also memorable, for The Love Boat at 9(again, I was barely of school age) and Fantasy Island at 10.

Tuesdays had Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley on ABC, both staples in my household.

In 1990, ABC tried a critic's choice block, of sorts, on Saturday nights, consisting of Twin Peaks, The Young Riders, and another low-rated but critically praised program that escapes me (I want to say Homefront, but I think that was on Tuesday nights around the same time).

Todd Mason said...

Well, Brian, that other program on ABC on Saturday nights in '90-'91 was CHINA BEACH (at 9p ET), which I liked even better than TWIN PEAKS (10p) (particularly in its second, more blatantly absurdist season) or THE YOUNG RIDERS (8p), but I'll have to say, that was a solid night of broadcast tv.

And, you know, THE INCREDIBLE HULK Was the least hateful of the Universal super-people shows...even if THE BIONIC WOMAN had a single better actor (prettier, as well) in Lindsay Wagner.

Phillyradiogeek said...

Yes, of course!! I remember CB mostly as a weekday show though (Tuesday or Thursday I believe).

As for the Universal heroes of yore, most were lame (Spider-Man barely resembling the comic, Captain American was pathetic, I haven't seen the Dr. Strange TV movie). I was an avid Wonder Woman fan, and, being less than 5 years old, not for the obvious reasons.