Thursday, February 02, 2017

Mary Tyler Who?

A friend said his Millennial daughter was in a college class last week when word came of Mary Tyler Moore’s death. The professor thought this was big enough news that she announced it to the class. The reaction: no reaction. Hardly any of the students knew who she was.

Mary Tyler Moore was a big enough celebrity that several major networks devoted hour tributes to her (even some that only used Oprah sparingly). If you knew who Mary Tyler Moore was it was a big deal. More than just a beloved entertainer, she helped paved the way for feminism in the 1970’s. She affected people’s lives.

And today’s generation can’t quite place the name.

At first that is shocking. And then again it’s not. How would they know who Mary Tyler Moore is? THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, in my humble old school opinion is one of the finest sitcoms ever produced. It hit all the targets – consistently laugh-out-loud funny, characters you cared about, and groundbreaking subject matter that helped shape society in a positive way. For the sake of convenience, they should have just held the Emmy award ceremony on the MTM set in the ‘70s.

But for whatever reason the show didn’t age well. And storylines that were somewhat revolutionary back then – a single woman working, a single woman spending a night at a man’s apartment, a single woman on the pill, a single woman fighting for equality in a man’s world – those stories no longer have the same punch. The series feels and looks a little dated.  So the bottom line is you don’t see THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW in syndication as much. It’s on nostalgia channels and streaming services but you have to really seek it out. By the way, it’s WORTH seeking out.

And then there’s THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. There too Mary Tyler Moore was trailblazing – a young wife wearing pants, wanting more than just to be a housewife, being an equal to her husband – in the ‘60s these were radical concepts. And it didn’t hurt that every guy in America had a crush on her. But that was fifty years ago. That’s a long time. And the show is in black-and-white. I know lots of Millennials who won’t watch anything in black-and-white. THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW has had a good long run. But will it fade into the sunset, taking “Laura Petrie” with it?

We always say in tributes that these performers will live on forever, but that’s really not true. Some do. They’re the fortunate ones whose body of work is still being seen and appreciated. Lucy. Bogart. Cary Grant. Sinatra. Or they’re Hollywood Babylon – Marilyn Monroe.

And it’s hard to imagine that someone who could be SO famous, SO beloved, SO known by 100% of the population could be virtually forgotten in only twenty or thirty years. How many people under forty know who Bob Hope was? Or Jack Benny? Or Johnny Carson? And again, how would they?

How long do the Beatles have? Or Elvis? Or Michael Jackson?

What big stars from today will live on fifty years? Or, for that matter, other than THE SIMPSONS, what current show will even survive fifty years? Who will join that I LOVE LUCY, MASH pantheon? 2 BROKE GIRLS?  I don't think so. 

I’ll extend the question to semi-current shows. So FRIENDS? Maybe. CHEERS and FRASIER? I hope but don’t know. CHEERS has already lasted thirty years so it’s getting there. SEINFELD? I’d give better odds on FRIENDS.

Of course when we were making MASH we never thought the show would still be around today. We would have been paralyzed writing it if we did. But it’s a little unsettling to think that shows or people who can be so ingrained in popular culture and so adored by the entire world could be forgotten in a few short decades. Or in the case of Mary Tyler Moore, forgotten even while she was alive.

Homer Simpson will outlive all of us.

83 comments :

CRL said...

They'll probably remember that guy who was on The Apprentice.....

Carol said...

For what it's worth, I know 20/30-somethings who love the Monkees, as does my 14 year old nephew. So it is possible for things to get re-discovered periodically. And with the way the world is going, maybe it's time for The Mary Tyler Moore Show to be rediscovered.

I like Laura Petrie BECAUSE she's happy as a housewife. She made the choice to be Rob's wife, and she's good at it, but no one really defines her as that, and they appreciate she has intelligence and talent. That's how I always interpret it anyway.

Mike Barer said...

Back in the 80s, the chuckle about Generation X was the question "Paul McCartney was in a group before Wings?" Now it may be "Who the Hell is Paul McCartney?"

VP81955 said...

The lady in my avatar faces a similar problem. Perhaps a few people know Carole Lombard was married to Clark Gable; comparatively fewer know she earlier was married to William Powell (who in recent decades thankfully has enjoyed a semi-revival of sorts). Or they might know that she died in a plane crash, perhaps the prime reason Buddy Holly is remembered today. But they really aren't aware of Carole's towering talent in screwball/romantic comedy. Switch Lombard and Powell in "My Man Godfrey" with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in the overrated "Bringing Up Baby," and "Godfrey" would get all the credit.

But if it's any consolation, Ken, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" has aged much better than "All in the Family" or any of Norman Lear's concurrent sitcoms. The absence of "relevant" humor certainly is a reason. (And as I've stated many times before, you folks can have "Friends," whose chief promoter was its corporate logroller, TimeWarner. It lacks the bite of "Seinfeld" or the wit of "Frasier.")

Will the Beatles be remembered? I believe so...but not in the way many of us might expect. 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of "Sgt. Pepper," and I think on rehearing it, people will conclude its pretentiousness doesn't hold up -- whereas the 1962-1966 Beatles output does. I'd rather hear "Things We Said Today" or "Think For Yourself," which still sound fresh, than "Within You, Without You" or "Lovely Rita."

Thomas said...

I think that last line is very true. Mickey Mouse has been going for about a thousand years, long after anyone is still watching anything where Mickey Mouse actually stars. He's just a brand unto himself, and I think The Simpsons will carry that torch going forwards too.

Herschel said...

These are great questions? How long are famous people during the Golden Age of Television, Radio, Film and Musci going to be remembered?


We like to think that what happens during our life is going to be remembered forever. However, only a few of the greats and a few of the things that have happened during our life-time will be remembered in 500 or 1000 years.


I think I've been a good student of History so I know names of great men and women who have shaped our world over the past 5000 years. But, sadly, the education system isn't really telling our history as well as it should...


But I digress... in the 20th Century who and what will be remembered in 100, 200, 500 years? WWI and WWII, Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Hitler, JFK? Who is so big in entertainment during the 20th Century that they can transcend the generations? The Beatles, Elvis and Star Wars? Yes, those yellow creatures from Springfield will be in re-runs for a long time, but not even Homer will be known to anyone in 500 years.


Life moves on, for the most part people live in the here and now. They focus on what they can see now to bring purpose into their lives today.


All we can hope for is to leave the world a little bit better and a little more happier than we found it - now. People like MTM and the creators of Mash, Cheers, Friends and such have those few years to influence and entertain... Anything else, is just icing on the cake!

Bill Avena said...

There are hundreds of thousands of miles of SAVED BY THE BELL videotapes so this may be the show that future archaeologists find in Los Angeles 3535 AD. " From this evidence I theorize these tribes were silly, loud and kept contending with each other right until the end."

Alan Light said...

Two of the most famous people in America around 1960 were Arlene Francis and Arthur Godfrey. Today... forgotten. When Arlene Francis died newspapers that even bothered to print a blurb about her death attached a photo of the wrong woman to I, and nobody noticed. Johnny Carson is well on his way to joining them.

tavm said...

You just reminded me that a few years ago, they were think of changing the name of Gilda's Club-the place named after Gilda Radner who died of ovarian cancer and the place people with that disease were to bond in-because she had been gone for so long and her "SNL" reruns weren't on too many channels since the show has sooo many eps now with other subsequent cast members that her name is now lost in a blur. Good thing they haven't changed it but in the future, who knows? I also wonder if anyone who grew watching Adam Sandler in the movies appreciate someone as classic as Laurel & Hardy, my favorite comedy team and comedians but that's another kettle of fish as either one would say right now...

Scott H said...

Also, Ken, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" isn't streaming anywhere, I don't think. If it's not streaming somewhere, no one under 25 will know anything about it. I have the full series on DVD, and I revisited a few from the first season last week. They may be a little dated, but they're still FUNNY, laugh-out-loud FUNNY. If the show were more available, I think more younger people would know about it. It's harder for "The Dick Van Dyke" show because of the black-and-white problem.

Also, unlike someone like Betty White, who went on to be famous in the 80's for "The Golden Girls", Mary didn't have any other big TV successes after her two pioneering shows. Her Oscar for "Ordinary People" was in 1981; she has not been very visible since that time. And that time was over 35 years ago.

B.C. Christiansen said...

For some reason FRIENDS is super-popular with Millennials - even though Seinfeld seems to be eternally in syndication (I watched an episode last night and also this morning...on two different channels), FRIENDS may hold up better in the long haul.

Seinfeld continually dates itself to an astonishing degree with its references yet never seems to fade. Perhaps that's that ol' good characters and good jokes we're hearing so much about?

Brian Fies said...

Talking to a teacher friend last week, I was stunned to hear that many of today's college students have no memory of Sept. 11, 2001. But you do the math, and of course they don't.

Another teacher friend referred to "The Hunt for Red October" during a lecture. Blank stares. "Sean Connery?" Nothing. "Alec Baldwin?" Ah, the guy from Saturday Night Live!

You can probably strike Lucy, Bogart, Grant and Sinatra off your list. Very few yoots have experienced those TV shows, movies or songs.

It's not the kids' fault. Time moves on.

JR Smith said...

I have thought about this same thing many times. I am the Baby Boomer boss of a department of Millennials. When David Letterman did his last show, I stayed up late to watch it. Yawning the next day, I told my staff that I had shorted myself on sleep the night before to watch the last Letterman. "Who?", they replied.

I have had the same response when I have mentioned Johnny Carson, Dean Martin, Carol Burnett...even Fleetwood Mac!

And of course, no one on my staff of all young women had ever heard of Mary Tyler Moore. :-(

Elf said...

If anyone wants to listen to some good stories about Ms. Moore, check out Gilbert Gottfried's podcast posted today. He had Bill Persky, one of the writers of the Dick Van Dyke show (as well as what seems like a million other credits), on as a guest and he just told great story after great story. Particularly interesting to me was the story of how she gave up her right of refusal in a movie studio contract if they'd let her out to do a Broadway musical that eventually flopped. After that she had no control over the movie roles she was assigned and her career suffered for it.

Sean MacDonald said...

Entertainment is strangely ephemeral.

I had a girlfriend ten years younger than me. While she had kind-of heard of the Beatles, she didn't know any of their songs. My sister had purchased some Beatles CDs and was showing them off and I told her that my girlfriend wouldn't recognize any of the covers. And I was right. She had no idea who those guys crossing Abbey Road were.

But it's not just TV. There are tons of great works of entertainment that are gone now. I bet kids today have never heard of Pogo. And while I see that kids today seem to know who Popeye is, I have no idea how they know about him. Or, one of my more obscure favorites, there was a comic strip called King Aroo; I find it to be quite entertaining (at least the first year or two), but it's so completely obscure now that even people who are obsessed with comics will probably never have heard of it.

And we can go back further: who today knows that Skippy peanut butter was named after a super popular comic strip? Who today has heard of the Yellow Kid?

Or, in novels, who knows anything about the fantasy land of Oz other than that one movie from 1939 (and subsequent shows/movies trying to capitalize on its success)? Who knows about the many novels set in the land of Oz with many more interesting characters? And that there were many stage plays movies based on these various Oz books (most of which don't survive today) long before the 1939 movie?

It's not just TV that gets forgotten. It all fades away.

Gazzoo said...

Scott H...

The first few seasons of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" are on Hulu at the moment, and quite a few eps are on YouTube.

roadgeek said...

Completely concur with you, Ken. My wife and I are watching "The Fugitive" with David Janssen. Some of the best drama television has ever seen. Janssen was a remarkable actor. I mentioned it at work, and it was disheartening to have to explain the concept to co-workers. And many people today absolutely refuse to watch ANYTHING in black and white. Too bad for them.

We're currently watching the third season, which was black-and-white. The fourth season, including the final episode with the one-armed man, will be in color.

J. Allison said...

As you've said yourself, Ken, shows that are of the moment have a harder time living on forever. Murphy Brown is the classic example, but the Mary Tyler Moore Show is similar. It is very focused on the environment of the time and a lot of the conflict arises from Mary's character interacting with that environment. If that environment is totally foreign to the viewer then it's hard to understand the conflict. MASH is of its environment as well, of course, but that environment was already in the past when the show premiered. And there's a general understanding of "war time." People get that the characters are in a place they don't want to be and the general privations of the setting. You can relate to that in some way even if you've not experienced it directly.

Seinfeld is interesting because it is certainly of its time, but the environment does not play a central role. The whole point of the show is that the characters are so inwardly focused that they don't care about what's going on in the world around them. So I think it's got a pretty good chance of lasting.

Kirk said...

It may just be that 17 years into the 21st century, there's too many famous people, too much pop culture. I grew up in the 1970s (for the record, I love Mary Tyler Moore, and feel, if anything, she and her show may be a bit underrated) and there were still people alive who had seen The Great Train Robbery in 1903, the first movie and as good a beginning for what we call pop culture as any. Back then the human mind could retain the whole of entertainment history. The highlights anyway. There's just too much of that history now. To merely rummage through the most famous of pop culture offerings, you'd probably need a multi-volume encyclopedia.

By the way, Star Trek doesn't look like it's going to slip into anonymity any time soon. It must have its shields up.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

"Hey Nineteen
That's 'Retha Franklin
She don't remember the Queen of Soul
It's hard times befallen
The Soul Survivors
She thinks I'm crazy
But I'm just growin' old"

Back in 1980, even Aretha Franklin was being forgotten...

cd1515 said...

not sure, Ken, my young niece watches Brady Bunch and 90210 reruns and loves them.
shows like that may be old to us but they're new to HER.

thomas tucker said...

Tempus edax rerum.

Andrew said...

Sadly, this was all described by Ecclesiastes:

No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them. - Eccles. 1:11

For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die! - Eccles. 2:16

For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone? - Eccles. 6:12

For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. - Eccles. 9:5

Cheers, everyone! - Andrew

Covarr said...

One of the great casualties of the streaming era is that content discovery is a lot harder than it used to be. When I was an elementary school kid back in the ancient days of the late '90s, I distinctly remember seeing syndicated reruns of classics like MASH, I DREAM OF JEANNIE, I LOVE LUCY, and plenty more. I remember I particularly liked ALL IN THE FAMILY and how it didn't try to boil complex issues down too far. You did some channel surfing, and you were bound to find a classic sitcom. If you were especially lucky you might even find TAXI or WELCOME BACK, KOTTER, both excellent shows but neither nearly as widely syndicated as some.

These days, though, people my age and younger are watching Netflix. The problem is that Netflix hides its great sitcoms of the last few decades among a bunch of other crap, low-budget kids shows, poorly-received comedy movies that either came bundled with something else or were super cheap for them to license... They have some good stuff, but actually discovering it can be a nightmare. The only reliable way to find a lot of it is to look for specific content by name.

So unless something is super high-profile and highly hyped or advertised (House of Cards, Stranger Things, Breaking Bad), its chances of living on in the current generation is much lower than before. And with the sheer abundance of new content being created and released, far more than 20 years ago, FAR FAR more than 40 years ago, television content is not just dying, but dying more and more quickly.

Gary said...

I am an incurable TV addict, so when my kids were growing up our TV was always playing some great rerun -- the Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Tyler Moore, The Odd Couple, Ozzie & Harriet, etc. The kids watched and laughed.

Now that they're adults, they'll often tell me about hearing some old TV reference and they "got it," while none of their friends did. This gives me some small satisfaction, but also depresses me at the same time!

As far as a show like MTM becoming forgotten, I prefer to think that will never happen, for one reason -- it's FUNNY. Just look to I Love Lucy and the Honeymooners. Hopefully new generations will discover MTM, through streaming or something still to be invented.

Same thing with the Beatles music. It's so damn good, new generations will always find and appreciate it.

Heather Moore said...

replying to Scott H:

Mary Tyler Moore didn't win an Oscar she was nominated for one for Ordinary People.

Rob Greenberg said...

I blame this on the Disney Channel. Where we grew up watching classic sitcoms (and not so classic sitcoms) from before our time, today's kids watch these cheap knockoffs instead. They get Zach and Cody instead of Lou Grant. Or even Lucy.

Stephen Marks said...

Most shows, like my ex-wife, don't age well. Commenter Herschel had the answer, "for the most part people live in the here and now. They focus on what they can see now to bring purpose into their lives today." How many of those students, after their teacher mentioned Mary Tyler Moore, went and googled her name on their next break? None! They didn't even have to go to a library to look it up, it was right there on their laptops, all they had to do was key in three words. They didn't because of what Herschel said.

There is only one person who will be remembered 500 years from now, one person who will transcend changes in taste, aesthetics, humor, social relevance and the ignorance of youth. A person who has never had a sitcom, never starred in a movie, play, written a book, released an album or held a government or military position, and he's already 4 billion years old. God has the best fucking PR team in the history of the fiction/entertainment business. Best 10 percent that dude ever spent.

Jeff Maxwell said...

I attended a function for 60 high school kids interested in music, acting, etc. I asked for a raise of hands for their favorite MASH episode. None appeared. Only one kid had seen the show, "once." They did not know Jerry Lewis or Frank Sinatra. It was weird but not surprising when you do the age math.

Why do we bond with the heroes of TV, funny or otherwise? There were only three channels on my childhood TV, so everybody on it brought a degree of importance to my life. They influenced my hopes, dreams, humor, fears, etc. I liked and respected them. They were my friends when real friends were sometimes in short supply.

Okay, how many hands for a shmoo?

Ralph C. said...

I think some of the Beatles music from Let It Be and Abbey Road will also hold up over time.

Bill Jones said...

And let's not forget the most appropriate Ecclesiastes quote of all, particularly for anything Hollywood-related:

"Vanity of vanities; all is vanity." Eccles. 1:2

ADmin said...

Okay, here’s a Friday Question for you, Ken.

I was listening a broadcast of the Comedy Central show Roast Battle, and they kept making a comparison between contestants that were “Good writers” versus others that were good “Roasters” (Not sure why they use that term, but I assume they meant ones who reacted in the moment.) They also made the comment that West Coast (LA) Roasters tended to be better writers, versus East Coast Roasters who were more cutting and spontaneous – do you think there’s truth there?

It also got me wondering 2 other things: 1.) Do you like the show? (Insult humor?) 2.) Since you can write your insults ahead of time, do you think you would do well on it? :)

jean satzer said...

I'm going to say something radical. In my opinion the Mary Tyler Moore show was dated by the same thing that damned the Newhart show. 1970's butt ugly fashions and colors and set designs. With women especially, television dressed them in a more high fashioned way, and the 1970's just aren't cool. The 60's however? Still cool, which is why Laura Petrie is still relevant. By the way, rate and Barrel put out a Mid Century Modern sofa called The Petrie....although not in that despised color...

Ben K. said...

20 years from now (or sooner), everyone's favorite "TV" characters will be virtual-reality, artificially intelligent, computer-generated interactive character-bots who will laugh at all your jokes and then sleep with you (after a couple of "will they or won't they?" episodes, of course). Then you'll solve crimes together.

The only "stars" will be the programmers. There will be no real actors left -- although Scarlett Johansson will probably have to sue when she realizes that all the female characters' voices somehow sound exactly like hers.

benson said...

@Thomas Tucker....

"You know who said that? My Latin teacher in barber college."

Thanks for the laugh. Even though the writer(s) translated it wrong.

I'm proud to say my 25 and 21 year old are not afraid of black and white film. My kids can also quote DVD episodes, love the Marx Brothers, and enjoy the Beatles and Sinatra."

Yes, a part of it is they were exposed to these talents. And MTM hasn't really been rerun in a long time. Even Sundance has cut it to half a morning along with Bob Newhart, so they must be tanking there, too. Antenna buried "Newhart", too. I don't know, maybe they aren't crass enough for today's audiences.

Mike McCann said...

It's a matter of time or timelessnees:

I LOVE LUCY, while clearly set in the '50s, draws from situations that aren't frozen in their time period.

JACK BENNY, whom I dearly adore, is too set in the '50s and while still marvelosly clever, appears dated.

BURNS AND ALLEN, set in the same time, is more Lucy-esque. The human interactions translate better to our world.

THE FLINTSTONES, set in a never-was time and place, comes off funnier and more cheerful than THE HONEYMOONERS (sorry to say).

M*A*S*H is a "people" show, a cast set in a situation, but expressing human emotions that are timeless. It's 1951 but could just as easily reflect the frustrations of 2017.

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, is a wonderful time capsule of its time, but looks somewhat frozen in history. Its sibling series BOB NEWHART retains its charm.

My two cents' worth.

Anonymous said...

I also think it works in reverse. I'm GenX, and even I have a hard time remembering the "social influencers" (which is Millennial-speak for "stars") who were "trending" just a few years ago. The reason is, these YouTube personalities with millions of subscribers deliver content that is little more than stream of consciousness ranting. Who will remember that in a couple of years? Or want to watch it again? Can you imagine a DVD box set of PewDiePie? The life cycle of celebrity is growing shorter and there is little deference given to story or the craft of compelling narrative. When the "new century" generation starts to come of age, the Millennials will seem dated and obsolete, perhaps even ridiculous for spending so much time online watching other people playing video games.

rockgolf said...

Here's a scary thought.
The girl to whom "Hey, Nineteen" was directed in 1980...


...would now be 55 years old.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Pop culture? We have a "president" who thinks Frederick Douglass is still alive. He just heard the name this week but failed to get any details. Ignorance of history is the main reason he got elected. And you want to know if people will remember Carole Lombard or Mary Tyler Moore?

Johnny Walker said...

It's sad and a little scary, but I feel sort of proud that I own MTM on DVD. It feels important to be culturally aware of the past, plus it's fantastic when you find a show that's been "forgotten" but turns out to be great. I love learning about such things and it can actually add to your appreciation of modern day shows/films.

I'm 38, nearly 39, but I know of Johnny Carson (I researched him after watching and loving The Larry Sanders Show -- it really helped me appreciate the show even more, and also all the comedians who talk about growing up watching and adoring him. I also discovered the most natural chat show host in TV history -- I love watching clips from TJCS). I grew up watching old Bob Hope movies, so I'm a natural fan of his, but I wouldn't know Jack Benny if I fell over him. I hope someone is about to tell me there's a whole heap of great stuff of his to discover and enjoy.

I guess you can't predict what's going to be remembered and what isn't. I think avoiding topical issues, and avoiding the petty biases of the era you're in, help not date your show (The Dick Van Dyke Show certainly did that -- it treated any issues it faced with maturity), but I guess you've also got to be damned funny, too :)

estiv said...

Even the people who do know MASH may not know other things you'd think are obvious. On YouTube there's a Groucho "best of" clip that compiles about ten minutes of his most classic movie work. It's pretty good (based on source material that is excellent, of course). But one of the commenters wrote something like, "So that's why Hawkeye was acting so weird and had a fake mustache and cigar in that one episode of MASH." It never occurred to me that someone watching MASH might have no idea who Groucho Marx was.

Klee said...

This is SADDEST post EVER!!! MTM FOREVER!!!!

Mike said...

I agree with Jean - the 70s Newhart and MTM shows are so dated looking. It looked like crap even in the 80s Doesn't help that really worn syndication prints that have been running for years add to that dated image. Too bad - MTM is an excellent series.

Frasier - sad to say - is disappearing. I mentioned to one of my colleagues that I was watching it on Amazon, and she scoffed that it was "an old person's show". It's also running on COZI, one of the nostalgia digital subnets (notice that Friends and Seinfeld haven't yet been sentenced to that fate).

I so agree on The Fugitive. Start watching it when it was running weekly on ME-TV a few years ago, and that was just the perfect cadence. Didn't feel overwhelmed with trying to catch 5 episodes per week. A quality show with great acting, suspenseful stories, and heart. It wasn't completely standalone, either - there were recurring characters who popped up along the way who advanced the story. I was sorry the Tim Daly remake didn't catch on - I thought it had a lot of potential.

thirteen said...

Mary Tyler Moore's big problem was that she wasn't in Star Wars.

Fred Nerk said...

The 16 yo girl next door sings Beatles songs in her room. The internet and especially youtube are blurring generations together and people will find what they like most and what is the most interesting, the cream will usually rise to the top. The most amazing century ever just happened and most of it was recorded, it isn't going away.

Pat Reeder said...

I've talked to quite a few young people who know the Dick Van Dyke Show, especially those interested in writing comedy. I think it has a much better chance of living on than the MTM Show because it was deliberately not tied to current events, and because the early '60s atmosphere (Camelot, the Rat Pack, midcentury modern decor, cocktails, the chic women's dresses and sharp "Mad Men" suits, etc.) are cool again, while the mid-'70s will never be cool. They weren't even cool when they WERE cool.

I believe the truly great things will live on, at least with some kids. I grew up out in the sticks of Central Texas, where we pulled in over-the-air TV channels from Dallas and Waco on an antenna mounted on a 25-foot pole. Cut off from peer pressure, I just watched whatever I thought was good without regard to whether it was new or not. I loved the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, the DVD Show and lots of other stuff that was before my time, but I didn't give that a thought. To me, it was all contemporary entertainment because I was watching it right now.

And while it's not the norm, I think there will always be some kids with enough taste to seek out stuff that's not the same mediocre pop culture slop that's spoon-fed to their peers. My 12-year-old niece is studying dance. A couple of weeks ago, I took her to a theater showing of "Singin' in the Rain," and she loved it so much, I'm taking her to see the touring company of the Broadway show next week. But as much as she loved Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds, she told me her real favorites are Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire (in that order). I surprised her with a gift from Amazon of a DVD box of "Swingtime," "Shall We Dance," "Top Hat" and "The Gay Divorcee," and she was ecstatic.

PS to Mike: "Frasier" runs every night on the Hallmark Channel, six episodes back to back for a solid three hours of "Frasier" a night.

michael said...

Didn't Mary Richards once asked this question about being remembered? I remember Lou consoled her in his special way. Fame means nothing. He mentioned Winston Churchill. Lou pointed out that Churchill was one of the greatest men to ever live yet how often do you hear anyone talk about him.

I think the bit is in Chuckles Bites the Dust. If not it should be,

gottacook said...

A few SF writers have created far-future characters who enjoy old TV shows and clips. In Philip K. Dick's Now Wait for Last Year (1966), the most prized possession of the main character, in his thirties in the year 2055, is a nearly complete collection of videotapes of Jonathan Winters' TV appearances. (His wife makes him get rid of them eventually - she's a real piece of work.) And in John Varley's early-1980s novella "Blue Champagne" (set on the Moon and in orbit around it), one character introduces her soon-to-be lover to clips from "Toast of the Town, One Man's Family, My Friend Irma, December Bride, Pete and Gladys, Petticoat Junction, Ball Four, Hunky & Dora, Black Vet, Kunklowitz, Kojak, and Koonz." (As far as I can tell, the real shows in this list are in chronological order - and I love that Black Vet is on the list too.)

VP81955 said...

To Johnny Walker: The best way to discover Jack Benny isn't through his TV show or films (aside from Lubitsch's brilliant "To Be Or Not To Be," co-starring the lady in my avatar), but via his radio program. There, Benny more or less created the character comedy template that persisted through both radio and television. (Kelsey Grammer is a major Benny fan, as Ken certainly would tell you, and his Frasier character has many of Jack's idiosyncracies.)

The good news is that a vast majority of Benny's radio work can be found online, including nearly all his broadcasts from the mid-'30s on, when he, his cast and writers really hit their stride. (For example, the April 5, 1936 episode, "Clown Hall Tonight," is an early example of Jack's famed "feud" with radio rival and real-life friend Fred Allen, whose show was titled "Town Hall Tonight.") A total of 610 episodes are available at http://www.otr.net/?p=jbny -- like the best radio series (e.g., "Dragnet," "Gunsmoke"), Benny's output holds up extremely well. Check it out.

Andy Rose said...

I'm a little peculiar, but I like old shows that are clearly of their time. I preferred the MTM show to the DVD show (although candidly I'm not a huge fan of either one), and I preferred All in the Family to Bob Newhart. I enjoy listening to old Jack Benny radio shows (and Bob Hope even more, as he was often more topical) because they take me back to the time and place that those shows were made. I've never enjoyed fantasy fiction because it is governed by rules that are made up by the author and can be changed at will, but watching "socially relevant" old TV is its own form of escaping the world as I know it.

It's interesting how some pop culture seems to seep through multiple generations. I learned this week that my son is familiar with Marty and Doc and the DeLorean time machine, but he's never seen any Back to the Future movie. Then again, I grew up very familiar with Mickey Mouse, even though his cartoons had been out of theaters and TV for decades when I was growing up, and I didn't go to any Disney theme park as a kid. Mickey was just an unavoidable part of the culture.

Gary Theroux said...

One surprise is that when "Mary Tyler Moore" went out of production and first entered syndication, the ratings were remarkably low. In fact, that was true of all the MTM Studios' shows, despite their immense popularity when they were new. While excellent, they were just so much of their time. Why do some huge TV hits fail to retain their popularity in later years, while lower-rated shows of the same era prove to be more timeless? "The Honeymooners" was never a major TV hit when it was new but has endured decade after decade. This was something you, David, and I discussed, Ken, one day in your apartment around the time you two sold your first script to "The Jeffersons." "The Honeymooners" humor was based entirely on eternal human foibles. There will always be Ralph Kramdens and Ed Nortons in our lives and in ourselves. Next to nothing in those scripts or the way they were played was topical in a way that detracted from the humanity portrayed. In the same way, I think "Frasier" will go on and on because there will always be people with the characteristics of Niles and Frasier -- not to mention Daphne, Roz and Martin. "Frasier" episodes do not seem dated at all.

David Arnott said...

The way the world is now, it's basically branding and licensing that keeps some people memory alive. That's not a lament on my part, it just is the way it is. Which is why Mickey Mouse (and likely Homer Simpson) will be around forever (ish).

Forbes recently put out a list: 13 Top-Earning Dead Celebrities of 2016. Michael Jackson was there, as was Elvis. Not surprisingly, since they died recently, both Prince and David Bowie made the list. Dr. Seuss was there, as was Charles Schultz.

#9 on the list, though, was Albert Einstein, who made 11.5 million dollars in 2016 from having his face plastered on T-shirts and tablets, and all in between. And as long as that keeps happening, we will remember Albert Einstein :)

FWIW, Marilyn Monroe did *not* make the list, but Bettie Page did from lingerie, bridal wear and handbag deals. Also Steve McQueen from deals with Tag Heuer, Porsche, Persol and Barbour.

Anonymous said...

"Vanity of vanities" did not refer to the LA type of vanity.
It referred to emptiness - related but not the same.

It's not completely the kids's fault but they are not blameless in ignoring their history. The world did not begin when they became conscious of it, and a reasonable sense of inquiry would lead them to discover things. Even if we abandon our role in introducing them to those things.

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
. - Orwell

ScarletNumber said...

Mary Tyler Moore stayed in the spotlight somewhat due to the generosity of David Letterman, who had her on his CBS show 12 times. He also had Jimmie JJ Walker on 14 times. Say what you want about him, but Letterman is loyal.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, our young are too aware of the Kardashians. Hopefully, history will not be kind to them.
Janice B.

Mike Barer said...

Let's not forget though that bands from the 60s and 70s are alive and well and playing at a casino near you.

VP81955 said...

To Gary Theroux: "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" may have struggled in syndication in some markets, but certainly not in all. The reruns were popular on WNBC-TV in New York, particularly when they were shifted to the post-Tom Snyder time slot in the early '80s. In fact, late-night "MTM" was so popular that when Toni Tennille's talk show flopped in late afternoons and was pushed back to 1:30 a.m., moving "MTM" to 2:30, the outcry from fans was so great that the shows' time slots soon were flipped.

Marshall Epstein said...

Hey doesn't Beethoven and Mozart have relevancy, not to mention, but mentioning Shakespeare

Edward said...

I discovered this blog a month ago when searching for popular TV shows that did not fare well in syndication. It's an interesting topic as being on the air 6-8 years or longer should mean a bonanza of syndication cash, but it does not always work out that way.

The MTM Show has literally been off the air for 40 years and MTM has not really been in the spotlight for decades even though she won a Tony for her Broadway work and was nominated for an Oscar (1980's). As already noted, most homes have hundreds of TV channels and with Tablets, Smartphones and High-Speed Internet, it's hard to keep up.

If you watched Jerry Seinfeld interview President Obama a year ago on the Coffee Show, the President made a comment that unnerved Jerry and got under his skin. The Pres said that Jerry was retired or not working, but Jerry does 100+ club dates a year since his show ended......It's easy to be forgotten.


Anonymous said...

Next to Lucy, Mary Tyler Moore is probably the greatest screen comedienne in television history, based on not one but two iconic shows. And that doesn't count her cultural relevance.
For young adults not to remember her today is a sad state of affairs, especially with the Web to call on as an immediate reference, which makes it far different than forgetting, say, a silent film comedian of the 1920's in the 1970's when his or her work would have been far less accessible.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Anonymous: I'm willing to concede that MTM was great at what she did even though her work was not to my taste, but no way she's a greater screen comedienne than Carol Burnett!

Ken: over at AV Club they have a great series called "Random Roles" where they interview actors about roles AV Club selects out of their entire career. They're great interviews (especially Richard Masur's). There's one with John Lithgow, who says he turned down the role of Frasier in CHEERS (and also says that with him in it the show would not have been a hit). Do you remember anything about this?

wg

Creepy P said...

Not our Bible!! it's still here and ain't going nowhere.... see John Lennon was wrong

Creepy P said...

Quoting the book that will not be forgotten

thanks

Donald Benson said...

Don't forget Betty Boop, a major star of merchandise even through long stretches when few of her actual cartoons were getting any exposure. In fact, I suspect a lot of people who buy 1950s-themed Betty Boop kitsch have no idea she was an animated cartoon star, or that she dates to the beginning of the sound era.

Creepy P said...

If you're a big enough star and have an estate after you are deceased that depends on Revenue coming in from your image they keep you in the spotlight one way or another.. that is a big factor

Can Crusher said...

Mary Tyler Moore is wonderful TV comedienne in 80's, create many fans by her shows. Thanks for written about her.

Barry Traylor said...

It would appear that Millennials think ancient history is what happened before the day they were born.

Anonymous said...

@wendy Grossman
Let's say you were going to rank them
Lucy would be #1.
I'd rate MTM #2
Carol Burnett #3

I wouldn't get into much of an argument if you flipped 2 and 3. Carol was a better sketch comedian, MTM was a better sitcom character. Let's call it too close to call.

Johnny Walker said...

To VP81955: Thanks for that! I loved TO BE OR NOT TO BE but didn't realise it was Jack Benny. Better than the Mel Brook's version, although I enjoyed that, too. Thanks so much for the radio links and advice, too! I'll definitely check them out!

Chris G said...

My wife and I are both around 40 and neither had ever really sat down and watched MTM beyond the very occasional rerun years ago. We checked the first season DVDs out of the library and have been watching 2 or 3 a night - good writing is good writing and it's just a really good, really well made show. It helps that we lived in Minneapolis for about a decade and so the occasional shot of the skyline, etc. is fun for us in a way it's not for most viewers.

Bob Taylor said...

Lucille Ball had the Lucy character, and that was great. MTM had two characters, and she was always wonderful to watch. But I'm with Wendy M. Grossman: Carol Burnett is the greatest of them all.

Mike Doran said...

I'm a '50s kid, born before the invention of demographics.

I grew up watching black&white TV, on which i saw many movies that were made long before I was born - and I enjoyed them largely because of that fact.

The movies on TV in the '50s were often Poverty Row 'B's or even lower, and the names on the credits (both before and behind the cameras) often turned up on the newly-made filmed TV at night.

Laurel & Hardy, The Little Rascals, W. C. Fields, Wheeler & Woolsey - all long gone from activity when I first saw them, and it made no difference to me, I still learned to love them, and to appreciate them.

Color - that you saw at the movies, but not all the time.
We first saw Color TV every summer when the family went to the Museum of Science & Industry; it looked fuzzy and not quite real, but gradually improved over time.

The thing about change is that it's gradual - you don't really notice it while it's happening, but you just accept it.

It was about 1970 (give or take a year) that demographics, the Junk Science of our lifetimes, took root and basically wrecked all our entertainments.
The idea that you could construct hits to order, to appeal to this or that specific subgroup of people - in my experience, this is utter and absolute BUNK.
If your Millennial Kids have never seen the Old Stuff - if you've never made the effort to show them - they obviously will never learn to appreciate it; exposure is everything.
Unfortunately, we're several generations into the Rule Of Demographics - and that's something I've been battling all my adult (?) life.
I still encounter putative adults who won't watch B/W or anything made before their births, because they're old - not recognizing that the same thing is rapidly becoming true of them.
Somewhere along the way of writing this, I'vs stopped making sense to myself, which is a bad sign.
Help ...?

Justin Russo said...

I wrote this when Debbie Reynolds passed:

Anyone who has met me knows I live for the bygone era of classic film and the romanticized version of WWII: my grandparents meeting on the subway, national unity against a cause, the true powerhouse of women in the workforce. I can ramble on (both on the pros and cons of the era, I am aware they exist).
Mostly this is a lament that those who embody the Greatest Generation are rapidly being lost on a daily basis. Veterans, stars (Lauren Bacall was the knife in my heart). An actress like Debbie Reynolds is a force no one can hold a candle to. She was an ingenue and embodied both sweetness and tumult. That spirit is being snuffed out; And it saddens me.
Just remember that though these stars may have been tailored by a ruthless business, but how many smiles did Reynolds grant (and still does) solely from "Singin' In The Rain' (it's playing on January 15/18 in select cities FYI).
That is the spirit these icons represent for me and that I push daily to keep ablaze. Im having a 10-foot Garbo mural printed for Christ's sake! I'm a romantic, a sentimentalist. I pine for nostalgia, but nostalgia gets a bad rap. It's that light that keeps the smiles going and I prefer to bask in that glow.
If you can, ask your grandparents how they felt cowering in fear during Black Outs or an older minority the changes they helped implement after decades of hiding or facing adversity. Ask them about the time they played hooky in 1941 to see Sinatra at The Paramount (thanks grandma!).
Don't lose that smile that someone like Debbie helped grant. I for one refuse to let it go.

gottacook said...

Marshall Epstein: Beethoven, Shakespeare, et al., live on only to the extent that modern-day performers (and their collaborators in a given production, in the case of plays) can enliven them. They aren't museum pieces, artifacts of an earlier era, when they are performed convincingly. By contrast, a filmed episode of an old TV series is unalterably an artifact of its era.

Stephen Robinson said...

John Lithgow as Frasier Crane is a brilliant bit of casting that I could completely see for Frasier's original arc. I can almost picture the scene where Frasier tries (with an empty gun) to kill Sam. Yet, I think it was uniquely Kelsey Grammer who made the character endure past that natural stopping place for him. (I also think his daughter could do the same with her character on THE MIDDLE).

I was born in 1974 and syndication -- that magic period after the local news and before prime time -- was how I fell in love with so many shows that endure with me even today. I was old enough to start watching CHEERS in first run during the Rebecca years but daily syndication is how I discovered the Diane episodes. My local FOX affiliate in 1990 started showing M*A*S*H for an hour at 7 and by the time I graduated high school, I'd seen those episodes so often I knew many by heart.

With Netflix and Hulu, I'm not sure you "find" shows like this anymore. There are so many options.

Speaking of shows thriving in syndication, I can't help but compare MARY TYLER MOORE to MURPHY BROWN. The latter was of course even more topical and thus quickly fizzled after its original broadcast. But I also wonder about the longterm success of shows set in workplaces. FRASIER brilliantly kept the radio station as a prime source of comedy while not making the show *about* his job (in other words, episodes that never involved the station didn't stand out as "odd"). CHEERS felt like a family show in many ways -- Carla as Sam's snarky sister more so than his employee, Coach as his Dad, and Woody as his little brother. Norm, Cliff, Frasier... all wacky "uncle" characters. Cheers vs. Gary's Old Town Tavern was like every show that had feuding "next door neighbors."

The news that WILL & GRACE is returning for a revival had me searching out some old episodes, which are impossible to find (no Netflix, no Hulu, not even on iTunes!). This was a show that was perhaps "too trendy." CHEERS and FRASIER again did very well about keeping the pop culture references limited -- and also had very few SPECIAL CELEBRITY GUEST appearances that were more about the guest than the story. It was a very "hip" version of THE LOVE BOAT in that sense. I have fond memories of the show and the performances from the cast, but unlike CHEERS or FRASIER, there are no specific episodes that stand out to me.

Craig Gustafson said...

Even 13 years ago...

I was directing a production of "Noises Off" and, not wanting to give the actress playing Brooke a line reading, said, "What I need here is a Laura Petrie 'Oh, Rob!' moment."

She looked at me like I was speaking Latin.

Karen Severino said...

As one who knows all too well of Ms. Moore's body of work, I find it sad that today's younger generation had no clue. I am a huge Doris Day fan,who was also very well known in the 60s, but her career spanned greatness in both tv and movies, as well as a great songstress...she was a triple threat in her career. All I can say is that I feel sorry for this generation because Hollywood and the entertainment of today does not hold a candle to the baby boomer era. We had the best of the best and they are legends that will live on in our minds always!

Anonymous said...

I worked with mostly millennial too and I know what you're saying.I still wouldn't trade my generation TV and movies for.the garbage on TV today. I feel very lucky that my generation experienced a wonderful age in tv.rip Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

Anonymous said...

I must admit that after watching the movie THE. FUGITIVE I said to my Mom this was a TV series? She shot back "yes back when people had a attention span!"

Mike said...

MTM is a vastly superior show to Murphy Brown. Murphy Brown had a wonderful character and performance by Candice Bergen, but she was surrounded by a bunch of caraicatures. Miles? Corky? Jim? I have no desire to spend any time with those people again. They are super annoying cardboard cutouts. I'll take Lou, Murray, Rhoda and the gang any day.

cadavra said...

It's ironic that the kids won't watch B&W, because in my opinion the shows from that era often seem more timeless than those in color; e.g., DVD > MTM, HONEYMOONERS > ALL IN THE FAMILY, PERRY MASON > L.A. LAW, etc.

David G. said...

In January, I was speaking to a group of about 30 high school journalism students and wanted to reference the 7-minute Jerry Lewis non-interview interview with The Hollywood Reporter that had hit the Internet only a month earlier. Then I said, "First, can I get a show of hands of who here knows who Jerry Lewis is?" And ... not a hand went up. Quickly scrambling to connect some relevancy with these teens with a current character who is based on Jerry, I then asked: "Okay, who here knows who Professor Frink is on The Simpsons?" And ... ONE girl raised her hand!

Neil said...

I fear so. There was a thing going round social media about Kanye West having 'discovered' him when Macca played on one of his tracks a couple of years ago. http://m.axs.com/uk/kanye-west-discovers-up-and-comer-paul-mccartney-35865