Thursday, October 27, 2011

Top 60 Sitcoms...In 30 Days! - Part V(d)

We only have 3 Sitcoms left in our Countdown.  Tomorrow, I shall reveal which one has the coveted #1 spot on our list.  But today, let's take a look at the two Sitcoms that came down to the wire to earn the bronze and silver medals on our list.


14. Barney Miller
13. Murphy Brown
12. Frasier
11. I Love Lucy
10. Everybody Loves Raymond
9. Night Court
8. Seinfeld
7. Friends
6. The Golden Girls
5. The Simpsons
4. All In the Family

3. The Cosby Show, NBC (1984-1992)
Comedian Bill Cosby had several TV projects under his belt -- each of them with varying degrees of success (I Spy, Fat Albert and The Electric Company among the more notable of them!) -- by the early 1980s.  But when Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner (former executives at ABC) wanted to start their own production company, they knew they wanted someone like Mr. Cosby to star in the series to launch that company.  What they came up with was not only a great Sitcom, but a groundbreaking one.  It was Cosby's decision that the family portrayed in his new Sitcom be a family of financial means.  He would play a doctor and the wife (played by the multi-talented Phyllicia Rashad) would be a lawyer.  We had seen smart and intelligent African-American parents on TV before this (see Good Times or Julia).  But this was one of the first times in Television History that an African-American couple would be portrayed as extremely well-educated and fairly financially independent.  As Cliff and Clair Huxtable, Cosby and Rashad had an amazing chemistry.  They were loving, tender, caring and sensible not only with their children but with each other.  The Huxtables had 5 children: Sondra (Sabrina LeBeauf) was a student at Princeton; Denise (Lisa Bonet) was a typical high school student who became a college student during the run (which spawned the successful spin-off A Different World); Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) was (at the beginning) a 15 year-old boy who wanted nothing in life but just money and women; Vanessa (Tempestt Bledsoe) was (at first) the pre-teen learning about the typical teenage problems and was often in trouble with her mother as years went on; and Rudy (Keshia Knight Pulliam) was the baby of the family at 5 years-old when the series started (she too went through some of the same pre-teen problems Vanessa had encountered towards the end of the series).  Each of the kids had a special bond with their parents that made the family that much more relatable to audiences.  The show was an instant success and was a #1 show off-and-on for most of the decade.  The series not only inspired other shows that prominently featured African-Americans (like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or Family Matters), but it also inspired NBC and the other networks to look for more shows they could base on a comedian's family life (see Roseanne, Home Improvement or Everybody Loves Raymond).  This Sitcom was truly a favorite of mine growing up and cemented NBC's extremely powerful (and marketable) Thursday "Must See TV" line-up.

2. M*A*S*H, CBS (1972-1983)
Only 2 Sitcoms share the most Emmy nominations for Best Comedy Series (both shows getting nominated each of their 11 seasons!).  The other one, obviously, you will see tomorrow.  But this was the first one to gain that record.  It also managed to set some other records in the TV History books.  Developed by former Sid Caesar writer Larry Gelbart, it was one of the first successful TV shows to be based on a film (a critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning film for that matter!).  It was also among a crop of Sitcoms (along with All In the Family and Maude) that constantly blurred the lines between Comedy and Drama, much like the film had.  In fact, because of its setting, M*A*S*H so naturally blended those lines that it is now considered (by many within the industry!) to be the forerunner to "the Dramedy."  In the series, Alan Alda and Wayne Rogers took on the roles that Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould had made famous in the film, Captain Benjamin "Hawkeye" Pierce and Captain "Trapper" John McIntyre, respectively.  The two surgeons passed their time in Korea by flouting authority and commenting on the senselessness they felt was around them.  They were the constant thorn in the side of their imbecilic tent-mate Major Frank Burns (the late Larry Linville) and his off-and-on paramour head nurse Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Hoolihan (the delightful Loretta Swit).  As the show went on (over three times as long as the actual Korean War!), Rogers' Trapper John left the series and was replaced by Mike Farrell as Captain B. J. Hunnicut.  And for the seriousness of the war to hit home with audiences, they had one of their lead characters (Colonel Henry Blake, played by McLean Stevenson) killed by enemy fire as he was on his way home to the United States (all off-screen, mind you!).  The series broke further ground by taking chances with the style of some of their episodes.  They did episodes that were done in documentary-style.  They did an episode in "real time" (meaning the occurrences within the episode happened within exactly a half-hour!).  They did an episode from the point of view of one the soldiers wounded and sent to the 4077th.  And in their finale, the CBS Network pulled out all the stops and asked for a 2 and half-hour movie (directed and co-written by Alan Alda!).  The finale (which aired in February 1983) became one of the most watched programs of all-time.  It is considered (by many!) to be the most memorable finale in Television History (we all remember the iconic "Goodbye" laid out in rocks as Alan Alda rides out of Korea on a helicopter!).  The show changed the way we think about Sitcoms to this very day and will always be remembered for its challenging style.

Only one show could earn the #1 spot on our list.  Tune in tomorrow (even if you've figured it out already!) to see what successful Sitcom will hold the honor of the Best Sitcom of All-Time.

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