Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Waste of Time

On the day after the momentous passing of Barack Obama's Healthcare Bill, it is only fitting that I put up a post about the top ten syndicated television shows of all time, according to me.  Why put it up? Why not expound upon the ripples and effects of President Obama's Healthcare Bill? 

One, I do not have an extensive knowledge enough about the details of the bill in order to provide you with an informed opinion that can also verge on the humorous, which is the whole point of what I write. 

Two, you do not come here for that.  That is, unless I get any feedback that says you do, in which case, I will be glad to start doing more homework.

Third, I wanted to write up a funny/pointless list for you to look at.

Fourth, I spent much of my day last Thursday watching basketball (and sporadically on the subsequent days of the weekend as well) and I realized how many damn shows are in syndication and how in strange way, syndicated TV shows have formed a connect the dot timeline of my life and provided a communication touchstone between myself and other people - as strange as that is.

Five, the next phase of the Amazon Createspace Breakthrough Novel Award results are announced later today and of course I believe I am going to be in the next round. So, even against my better instincts, I am somewhat excited and can't focus on something heady.

Sixth, I am feeling sort of lazy and want to come up with some more substantive posts for you all.

In any event, here is the list of the Top Ten Syndicated TV Shows of All Time According to Me:

10. Amen - This was a little known show from the 80's that was somewhat of a Jeffersons spin-off only because it featured Sherman Helmsley aka George Jefferson.  This show used to be on at about 6 o'clock in the morning when I was in high school so I used to watch it as I groggily showered, got dressed, threw on a brown skull cap and got ready to go to school to crack jokes, write alter-ego names on my tests and quizzes, and brood over what literary fame was bound to come my way.  Boy, did I have no idea what college was going to be about.  But the show itself was great. Sherman Helmsley played a character called Deacon Earnest Frye who was part of a church community in Philadelphia.  He was always coming up with money making schemes (a favorite trait of any of my TV characters) and trying to get his daughter to marry a rich guy.  In the end his harebrained plans always fell through and he got his comeuppance.  Great concept for a show: corrupt church figure; great themes: trying to get money and marry your daughter to a rich man; great overall look: late 80's fuzzy greys, greens and browns.  This eased me pleasantly through many dull pink and blue grey sunrises during eleventh and twelveth grades (2001-2003).

9. Three's Company - These first three entries are all directly related to my waking up experience in high school so just stay buckled in.  Obviously this is a classic set-up with John Ritter and his two female roommates Suzanne Somers and Joyce Dewit.  I mean you have the all-time great TV, movie and life themes here: two guys and a girl (Two Guys a Girl and a Pizza Place); a guy pretending he is gay to get by on rent (see Williamsburg, Brooklyn); sexual innuendos galore and misunderstandings (Seinfeld); the classic landlord threatening you kick you out stick (see origins in Abott & Costello and again see Williamsburg, Brooklyn).  Needless to say, all of these sexual innuendos and landlords trying to kick fake gay guys who are culinary students had a great affect on my comedy sensibilities as a 14 and 15 year old.  Many people pay attention to Suzanne Somers as the original blonde, but you can't overlook the replacement blondes later on in the show.  Classic roles such as Chisty' (Suzanne Somers) cousin and a blonde nurse who is serious but unlucky in love.  This is a realist comedy through and through.  Very influential in my headphones on, Led Zeppelin cranked up, enjoying weed a little too much phase (2000-2002).

8. Coach - Craig T. Nelson was already a legend from his epic performances in the Poltergeist series.  Poltergeist alone cemented his legacy as top movie dad (protecting his family from ghosts and contronting his boss for building homes on an indian burial ground), football fan (St. Louis Rams), and calming onscreen presence (again, protecting his family from ghosts).  Coach mixed all of those things together: he was a decent dad but overprotective of his daughter (legitimately early 90's hot), he was a football coach (Hayden Fox of the Minnesota State Screaming Eagles) and calming onscreen presence (he lived in a wood cabin or something that was all kinds of early 90's light brown and purple).  This show really had an effect on me in my early teens.  This was on back to back at 6:30 and 7:00 AM before junior high school and I followed all the exploits of Dauber and the name of Jerry Van Dyke's character. Jerry Van Dyke taught me what an alcoholic probably acted like and talked like, which I can never forget.  This show was also great because it featured tons of cameos from football players, excellent stock football footage of real teams used as footage of the Minnesota State team and a picture perfect contrived later season twist on the show when Craig T. gets a job for an expansion NFL team called the Orlano Breakers.  Overall perfection with some of the best early 90's footage known to man - real send into outer space kind of stuff.  Can you believe it is only #8?

7. Scrubs - This may not be a fan favorite because of Zach Braff's unlikeability, but I can't deny the power Scrubs held over me in college.  During my senior year, when my ability to watch terrible movies on TV was at its peak (OK maybe some of my friends can prove otherwise), Scrubs reruns stole the mantle.  Hungover on a Sunday? Scrubs on Comedy Central. Nursing a hangover on Saturday evening? Scrubs on at 7:00 on Fox 5.  Dinner mixed in? Sure. Is Zach Braff annoying? Yes, he is.  Is the show technically still running? Yes, I think its corpse is propped up on some network. Did the Dr. Cox character become too popular for what it actually was? Yes. Was it sort of funny? Absolutely.  See, Scrubs is a tormented television show in syndication, constantly drawing complex emotions from viewers.  That is why it had to make my list. It is a risky pick at number 7, I know.  However, they did always have sexy women as guest stars and the character Elliot usually showed a decent amount of cleavage and caused many internal debates about whether or not she was actually hot.  (Ed. note: I'm already starting to feel terrible about this post.)

6. Wings - Sleeper pick, but you can't deny it.  You  have vintage Tony Shaloub before 13teen Ghosts, and Monk; you have that blonde southern woman Helen who was hot in a "1993 very white in a light pair of denim jeans" way; you have Tim Daly in a strange post Diner 80's heydey when he could have been someone (like that whole cast - man what a movie) and his latter day Soprano's punching bag role; you had Steven Weber as Tim Daly's idiot brother who got into trouble with women and schemes and who later went on to have a kind of offbeat sitcom called The Tim Daly Show which was strangely enjoyable; and you have Thomas Hayden Church in a classic role as the repairman, Lowell, who had a strange exit from the show: Eventually, Lowell is forced to leave Nantucket and enter the Witness Protection Program after witnessing a mob hit. Although it was hard for him to leave Nantucket and the people he knew all his life, Lowell decided he would prefer to go into hiding rather than let a guilty man go free and possibly murder again. These are the type of ideas that define genius.  Just think about the pitch: "OK its kind of like Cheers but actually in a small diner at an airport on Nantucket and two brothers run the airline." Why didn't you or I think of that and make money off of seven seasons on TV?

5. The Office - You may be thinking that its a little high for being so new to syndication, however the prevelance of The Office on TV now is insane.  The Office has rapidly risen up this mental list for the past four months. You can't click two channels without it being on.  Plus, watching it through syndication made me realize how genius it is. You have to appreciate it for the background character Creed alone.  Plus it is cozy in some strange way.  I know that Gervais' original is superior because Gervais himself is actually a comedic genius with a great insight to the human condition, but this one has Jim and Pam.

4. The Cosby Show - It may be too high on the list because it is not the best for overall quality.  However,  you have to love its duration as being a touchstone of mid-day television.  During the day in college, I used to chill to a little Cosby Show when I had break in class. I am thinking specifically of the spring of my junior year (2006).  You also have to love it as the quintessential vision of the 80's.  There is nothing that looks more 80's or feels more 80's than the Cosby Show. I will take no other arguments.  The range of the siblings on the show was great; you have Cos eating up scenes as well as his obsession with his kids giving him money and paying for things; you have Phylisha Rashad (gotta hand it to Ahmad Rashad - a long time NBA on NBC stalwart and former NFL pro) as the smoking hot mom; and you have classic 80's babe Lisa Bonet in her prime.  You get valuable family and cultural lessons as well as Cosby "baw bawing" and hamming it up? Is it a little heavy handed? Yes. So what, what else did you expect from the 80's?

3. Simpsons - We all know the woe that has come to the Simpsons in recent years and I don't need to expand on it.  It has lost me.  I don't blame any of the writers because it is damn hard to right in the same constraints and characters for 20 years.  However, everybody had the Simpsons as a touchstone not only in its normal Sunday night spot, but in the classic after school spot.  You come home from practice and Simpsons is on back to back on Fox from 7-8, every night. You come home from sneaking booze with your friends and its on again at 11:30 PM.  You go to school the next day and recite the jokes to your friends and try to get one up on your teachers during class. It was essential. We all know this and now we can still see faint glimpses of it when an "old" Simpsons episode comes on Fox at 7:30 or 12:30

2. Seinfeld - What? Seinfeld at number 2? Wait until #1 then.  We all know that Seinfeld has somewhat overtaken the Honeymooners for setting the bar for syndication. Honeymooners was too far before my time for me to give it consideration here.  Seinfeld at 11:00 o'clock on Fox is  like a ritual that will never be changed.  You can turn on any episode and find yourself laughing hysterically or muttering, "I forgot about that one." It is truly an strange phenomena of an art form or commodity. It has so sunken in with our social and cultural psyches (then again I am speaking from a totall white perspective here) that Seinfeld is almost merged with our own brains.  It touches on all of the classic comedy tropes - fringe characters, stupid bosses, landlords, girlfriends, neighborhood rivals, harebrained schemes - and takes them in clever and, in later seasons, bizarre directions.  It has the essential 90's look that will never be topped because it is so singular an iconic.  What else is there left to do with this show but to try and mock it at whatever chance we get? Why, because it was so good an because it is so entrenched in our strange culture.  And that's what you do with anything on a pedestal.

1. Saved by the Bell - The most instructive television show for anyone who grew up in the late 80's and 90's.  My pulse is not so much on that age group right now, but I still believe you get to Saved by the Bell before Seinfeld. The Zach Morris character is the epitome of who you want to be growing up: slick jokester with tons of harebrained schemes, preppy bad boy who has the hottest girlfriend - I mean come on. The show takes place in California and all the scenes are very school-centric, which is so relatable. You had great babes that straddled 80's and 90's hot.  In fact, the whole show successfully transitioned from the 80's to the 90's.  There are classic spin-offs like College Years and that one season that took place at the beach.  Each era of the show is easily identifiable and we all watched it before school and after school, because it was always on TBS or TNT or WPIX.  We all talked about it and used it as the essential reference point for navigating through school (whoa, Domino. I think you are going overboard) no matter how feverently we may deny it.  How many times did you or some other stupid person that you knew and loved turn around a chair, sit down with their body facing the chair back and go "Hey, guys, I'm A.C. Slater"?  Happened all the time.  And, finally, they had the best and most aptly named character of all time: a principal with the name Mr. Belding.  Bell Ding!  The name of the show was Saved by the Bell! How are we not living off the riches of syndication?  This show epitomizes what syndication is, what it is used for, and how it defines the communication of American youth.

So, hopefully, what this list does is show you how many cultural touchstones (er, maybe a stretch for some of these - but hey lots of people watched them!) were based off of stupid ideas.  This should give us all credit to go out there and make millions on our own stupid ideas.  We can do it! And, in the worst case scenario, maybe we can come up with a show like Arrested Development, which nobody watched.

Before I go, I want to point to two recent articles and one piece of literary news:

Article 1 is from the New York Times, which is Paul Westerberg's comments on Alex Chilton and his death.  It is a short article with no real substance aside from the fact that it is interesting to read Westerberg right about Chilton.

Article 2 is from Bill Simmons' own webpage.  It is a running log he did of two NBA games from last night.  His sentiment here reflects my own post-NBA All-Star game thoughts.

Finally, the writer Sherman Alexie won this year's PEN/Faulkner Award. I read some of his work in a relgion class in college when we were covering Native Americans.  He is a decent writer and they even made a movie about one of his stories - fairly entertaining as well.  I'm better than him so that award should be mine in just a few years anyway.

That's it for now.  I'll have more stuff up here this week.  Namely a piece I have in mind matching up Joanna Newsom's new album and the new She & Him album and comparing Zoe Deschanel and Joanna Newsom as vocalist.  Also working on the podcast stuff and hopefully the first one will be up this week and then go clockwork after that.

Always new content. Just stick with me.

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