Sunday, June 29, 2008

TV Comedy died forever in 1982

I saw this, and I wondered why it was considered newsworthy because I remembered reading about that being a controversy in Brooks and Marsh. In fact, this post was originally going to be all about that, and was to be entitled "Is it 1982?"

But while I was looking for first-hand accounts of the controversy from the period, I found this Time article instead. The conceit of re-animating the characters from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to comment on great sitcoms that had just been canceled is a clever one, and writer Richard Corliss does an admirable job of writing everyone in character. They aren't all dead-on - Mary's a little too stereotypically hysterical, maybe - but Murray, especially, sounds exactly like he should.

Reading the article, a couple of things jump out at me. First, Mork & Mindy is included. In that company, it stands out like a guy dressed as Yoda at a Star Trek convention. The other three shows (Barney Miller, WKRP in Cincinnati, and the soon-to-be-saved-by-another network Taxi) were all character-based and driven by relationships. In my mind, they form a trilogy of near-perfect workplace sitcoms that has never been topped before or since. Mork & Mindy, especially after the first season, was based around finding new excuses for Robin Williams to act like a caffeinated eight grader. Admittedly, Corliss gives all of the Mork affection to dim Georgette, so it's possible he wasn't too fond of the show either. But can it be possible that in the spring of 1982, the critical community mourned Mindy along with all of the others?

The other thing that's striking is the title of the article. Of course, it's not unusual to read articles announcing the death of the sitcom during this pre-Cosby Show period. But the inclusion of the word "honest" gives it another dimension. He doesn't ever come out and say comedy is dead - he even makes a point of saying M*A*S*H was still on the air - but Corliss seems to be saying that TV was no longer capable of creating well-crafted comedy. It was going to be Diff'rent Strokes and Too Close for Comfort from then on. That fall, of course, Cheers would premier, and would feature a lot of the same qualities Corliss honors in the article (close-knit group of characters depending on each other, the city as a character).

1 comment:

Jaime J. Weinman said...

I do remember that article. 1982 was kind of a bloodbath year for sitcoms; another critic wrote an article around the same time lamenting that ABC had canceled Police Squad! and Bosom Buddies, their only comedies apart from Taxi that tried to do something a little different. Soap had gone the year before. Mork and Mindy seems like a weird choice for inclusion with those other shows, but it makes sense if we think of it as a comedy with something you didn't usually see on sitcoms (namely Robin Williams, and also, I guess, Jonathan Winters), and the networks were canceling every sitcom that was even a little different or even a little bit more interesting than average. It's a bit like today, of course, in that the sitcom was being pronounced dead, but back then it almost seemed like the networks were trying to kill the form off (I don't think this is true, but that's how it looked).

But I suspect that yes, critics really did have a certain affection for Mork, because Williams was kind of a critics' darling at the time.