Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Essential Garry Marshall Bomb

Over at mon autre blog I have an episode of Blansky's Beauties, the bomb Garry Marshall created for ABC in 1977 to get in on the "jiggle" craze, and one of the worst shows ever created by someone who had two top-ten hits on the air (granted, there aren't many people who have had two top-ten hits at once).

One reason I'm kind of fascinated by Marshall's shows is, as I said before, that no TV producer has ever been more open and unabashed about doing whatever it took to cash in on current trends and appeal to whatever he thinks the audience will go for at a particular moment in time. Every TV producer does it, of course, but they usually try to disguise it a bit. With Garry there's no disguise, and after 1975 or so, no attempt to give any show a consistent style or tone; any joke, story, stunt or actor who will boost the show's demographic profile is in. Combine that with his tendency to create multiple roles on multiple shows for actors he liked for one reason or another -- Eddie Mekka, Scott Baio, Lynda Goodfriend -- and his staffing of every show with his siblings and other relatives, and you've got one of the strangest TV mini-empires of the '70s, but one that in its way sums up pop culture in that era. Plus it shows Marshall's penchant for never wasting an idea, however bad, because after this was rightly cancelled, he re-tooled the same idea -- Las Vegas showgirls living in a house with Scott Baio -- into Who's Watching the Kids? a family-friendly show for NBC, starring Baio, Goodfriend and Caren Kaye as the same characters under different names.

But the kitchen-sink approach didn't work for Blansky's Beauties. For one thing, the pandering was just too obvious even by his standards. For another thing, the re-tooled Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley were both run by the writing team of Mark Rothman and Lowell Ganz; they were probably the best writers on Marshall's team, and they ensured that the first multi-camera season of Happy Days was really funny and Laverne worked right out of the gate. They were not involved with Blansky's Beauties. (Ganz later came back to run Happy Days and brought it back to a certain level of respectability after the low point of the post-shark-jump seasons; he's the main reason why the show wasn't that bad after Ron Howard left, and Howard was impressed enough that he made Ganz and his new writing partner, "Babaloo" Mandel, his regular writing team.) The level of the writing is like a bad '60s sitcom crossed with a bad '70s sitcom.

Here as an extra is the opening of the Blansky's Beauties pilot episode, which Marshall directed himself. Shades of Happy Days, the pilot was one-camera, the series switched to multi-camera with an audience.



You'll notice that every episode of this thing began with a different pre-credits joke. Here's one where, as on L&S, Marshall and ABC inexplicably try to convince us that Eddie Mekka is a sex symbol.



12 comments:

Robert Hutchinson said...

Good Lord.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Thanks for reminding me how perfectly wretched this show was. Your O.B.E. is in the mail.

Larry Levine said...

To think Nancy Walker left the popular Rhoda (another dreadful show) for this turkey.

At least she still had the Bounty commercials.

Mike said...

It's nice to come across another person who feels Happy Days didn't sink like a stone after Ron Howard left. In fact, that first post-Richie season (1980-81) was better than the previous couple of seasons had been. The loss of Richie (and Ralph, to a lesser extent) forced the writers to come up with new situations they might not have otherwise been inclined to do. They were also forced to expand Joanie's role some, and played up the Joanie and Chachi romance more than they might have done otherwise. In short, it kind of rejuvenated the show.

Probably of the post-Ron Howard Happy Days, the 1980-81 and 83-84 seasons are my favorites. The show really lost something when Joanie and Chachi left in the 82-83 season, in part because there really was no reason for Howard and Marion to still exist, and yet they did (the introduction of cousin KC just didn't cut it, IMO). Things improved for that final season. The writers also seemed to dumb Fonzie down a little bit for that last year, and while normally I don't like it when characters are dumbed down (it sorta smacks of laziness on the part of the writers), it worked in this case, as it brought Fonzie down to earth a little bit.

Anonymous said...

How Ron Howard had the option to escape "Happy Days" yet remain contractually obligated to do the wretched Hanna-Barbera "Fonz and the Happy Days Gang" in 1981 remains a mystery. Garry Marshall had good lawyers, I guess.

The Vintage Reader said...

Wait: the DOG gets a spot in the opening credits, but only one of the Beauties does? I have no memory at all of this show, thankfully.

J Lee said...

Good schtick done well before a live studio audience can work fine in a sitcom -- see Seasons 2-5 of Marshall's "The Odd Couple". The problem with "Happy Days" after Season 3 was they rode the phenominon of The Fonz to the point that the stories didn't matter as much as showcasing the bits tied to Henry Winkler's character.

But at least there was a character with a certain appeal there, and the personalities from "L&S" had already been tried and tested to some extent both in the female chacacters from "American Graffiti" and the Broadway production of "Grease". The problem with Marshall's later shows is he and his staff were trying to force new "zany" characters on the audience, instead of letting the audience decide what characters worked and which ones didn't and going from there (Robin Williams' Mork, coming on the heels of the big sci-fi phenomenon in the wake of "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters" was the only time this tactic worked, and it was more due to Williams' manic energy that the public hadn't seen before than any type of great writing or character creation).

stevef said...

It's "A Chorus Line" meets "I Love Lucy." And we'll throw in a dog, so the kids will stay up an watch, too. It'll be a smash, I tell ya. A smash.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't there a song titled "I Want It All" from the play "Baby" of the early 1980s? Sounds like Marshall dumbed his way out of stealing it by crossing that song's title with the sentimental motivation behind "A Chorus Line" in fashioning this turkey.

mike doran said...

I hadn't thought of this wowzer in years. The one thing I do remember about it is "Mr. Smith", a tall, glowering man in a dark three-piece suit and dark glasses who never said a word - and who was, in fact, Garry Marshall doing a weekly walk-on. He was the funniest thing in the show, which pretty much gives you the whole picture.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Oh, that's who Mr. Smith was! As I said in the linked post with the full episode, he was the only good thing on the show -- even though he wasn't really funny, just creepy -- but I thought he looked familiar and didn't know who he was. I didn't recognize Marshall with those shades on.

Anonymous said...

Shame on you Larry for calling Rhoda "dreadful." You are obviously a member of Camp Phyllis, eh?

Seriously, it was no Mary Tyler Moore, but I still liked it. The so-called "worst" shows of the 80s and back usually tend to still be entertaining. And moreso than anything mid-90s and up. Oddly, this one included! (I admit to seeking and buying a bootleg DVD of the entire series) It's not the deepest program, but yeah. And Nancy Walker is always worth watching anywhere.

And you all know Mr. Smith, no? :-)