Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Dave Davis Enigma

Further to my earlier post about "The Bob Newhart Show," one oddity that I noticed is that every time the writer/producer David Davis left a show, it got better. Davis (and his writing partner Lorenzo Music) was a top writer on "Mary Tyler Moore" for the first two seasons; he and Music left after season 2, and "Mary Tyler Moore" got much, much better and funnier in season 3.

Then "The Bob Newhart Show" seemed to get better the more Davis and Music stayed away from the show and left it in the hands of Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses; the best season of that show, season 4, was the first season where Davis and Music weren't involved at all.

And finally, Davis was one of four creators of "Taxi," but he was only involved with producing the show for the first season -- which was not as good as the Davis-less seasons that came after.

None of this is meant as a slur on Dave Davis, a fine writer and a brilliant producer of title sequences (the "Bob Newhart" and "Taxi" main titles are his creation); MTM didn't get better because he left, but because they brought in new writers like Ed Weinberger and David Lloyd. But I just thought it was odd that a guy should leave behind him an apparent pattern of improving shows by his departure -- kind of Ted McGinley in reverse.

Oh, and speaking of "The Bob Newhart Show," Newhart recently mentioned at a public appearance that the fourth (and, as I said, best) season of that show will have DVD commentaries with Tom "Peeper" Poston and Suzanne Pleshette -- who of course is now Mrs. Tom Poston.

I'd still love to hear what a Jay Tarses DVD commentary would be like, though. I have this feeling that most of his comments would be omitted by studio lawyers.


John said...

Davis did write the best episode of the first season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, "Election Night Coverage", which was the first to really focus on the problems at WJM and also served to introduce Chuckles the Clown.

As far as his problems go, there seemed to be a reaction around 1970 to the growing level of slapstick-without-meaning in TV sitcoms, which produced two reactions; shows that toned things down and aimed more directly at more mature stories, like MTM or Bob Newhart, and shows that added "messages" to their stories but kept the pacing as high as on most late 60s sitcoms, which is what Norman Lear did.

Davis' problem seemed to be that if you slow things down too much in favor of more character personality development, you've got to get a lot of verbal comedy into those scenes to replace the visual action. And in many cases, while the shows he oversaw were definitely aimed at adults, there wasn't a heck of a lot going on over 25 minutes that couldn't have been done in 5-10 fewer minutes.

Anonymous said...

I think you overrate Jay Tarses and his maverickness(?).

Jaime J. Weinman said...

I think you overrate Jay Tarses and his maverickness(?)

That could very well be. I once wrote a character vaguely based on him so I may just conflate him with the character. (Still like the guy's writing, though.)

And I would call it "maverocity."

Chris Riesbeck said...

I actually liked the first season of Taxi best. It wasn't as funny, but there was a point to the stories. Everyone in garage had a dream of being somewhere else, except Louie and Alex. It's rare to find a sitcom where people are comfortable where they are.