Sunday, December 05, 2004

TV History Explained

With people talking about how schlocky reality shows seem to be slipping in the ratings in favor of watchable programs, I thought this was as good a time as any to quote from one of my favorite episodes of the second Newhart show. This is "Harris Ankles PIV For Web Post," written and directed by Doug Wyman (who, along with David Mirkin -- a future Simpsons showrunner -- helped turn Newhart from a low-key rural comedy into a bizarre media satire).

The premise is that local TV producer Michael (Peter Scolari) gets his long-awaited chance at a big network job, only to discover that the head of the network -- who seems to be loosely based on MTM and NBC's Grant Tinker -- is only interested in quality programming. Michael, who can't enjoy a show "without a catchy theme song that explains the premise" and utterly hates quality television, is devastated: all his life he's loved schlocky TV, and now nobody seems to want it. But Dick (Bob Newhart) reassures him that his time will come again:

DICK: Michael, I think you're missing an important point here. Your kind of shows -- the shows that you like -- are going to come back.

MICHAEL: You're just saying that to make me feel better.

DICK: No, I'm not. Television always runs in cycles. Remember back in the '70s, that great lineup: All in the Family, M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore, The Carol Burnett Show...

MICHAEL (disgusted): Dick, don't remind me. And how about that show with the shrink who stuttered?

DICK: Stammered. But, Michael, what came on after that, a few years later? Think. Or, a better clue would be, don't think.

MICHAEL: Three's Company.

DICK: Right. What else?

MICHAEL: Manimal. Supertrain. Sheriff Lobo!

DICK: Hello, Larry!

MICHAEL: Yeah! Dick, you're right! This stupid golden age of television can't last forever, and when it's over, I'll be there, leading the way!

DICK: Michael, I don't doubt it.

MICHAEL: Oh, Dick -- thanks.

DICK: Don't thank me.

MICHAEL: You're right. Maybe I should thank the American people.

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