Supply your own laugh track
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I guess I was part of the first generation to be described as "raised by television." I don't think the grandparents I spent much of my earliest years ever owned ones. In my few flashes from back then I'm always playing in the yard. (And the sitcom neighbor who stung my babyish priggishness by calling me "Bo.")
My momma told me they bought a TV when I was four. That'd be 1958. I remember my parents living in different houses and apartments. I have one or two images from a few. It wasn't until the settled in a flat in downtown Savannah that I really start remembering myself. And it is from then that I can remember the TV sitting in the living room corner.
It is George Reeves as a very smug Superman that always comes to mind first. The show ended in 1957 so I'd've been watching reruns. The Third Man starring Michael Rennie and Jonathan Harris (Dr. Smith on Lost in Space) and Burns & Allen are the earliest shows I remember seeing in their original run.
George Burns would watch the TV show with the television audience. Probably why I remembered it. About twenty years ago Pat Robertson's CBN was showing old sitcoms late at night. I got to see Burns & Allen again. Gracie Allen's surreal non sequitors probably weren't something I appreciated when I was a little. After seeing it again if I were to try to make a list of my favorite TV shows it would go at the top.
There wasn't much network or syndicated programming during the day. They'd run lots of old movies, whatever could be had cheaply. I fell in love with swords and sandals movies. George Reeves, the only bodybuilder before Arnold Shwarzenegger to be popular in movies, had starred in Hercules. Poverty row studios started importing Italian movies starring mythical strongmen. They usually had other names in Italy but many of them became Hercules in the US. For lots of young gay men at the time these movies were very erotic. I didn't care about the muscles. But my comic book drenched mind did like feats of super-strength. What I waited for were the all too rare appearance by a god or wizard to perform a miracle or magic. Nothing was too implausible to stop me from willingly suspending my disbelief. I was sitting there watching for the incredible.
I think NBC was the first network to have a regular movie rerun at nights. At it was on NBC Somenight At the Movies that I saw Michael Rennie again as Klatuu in The Day the Earth Stood Still. A flying saucer, a robot, an alien and ignorant venal humanity. Can there be a better combo? It will be my most loved movie until I die.
When Bewitched showed up I was instantly sold by Samantha's flying hairbrush. I can still enjoy reruns. The support cast was great Agnes Moorehead, Paul Lynd and Maurice Evans. Not to mention Gladys Kravitz as the most annoying neighbor of all time. That Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York were belivably in love was really made the show. I can't help but wonder if anybody didn't think Darren was as stupid as Endora said he was for not letting Sam use her powers.
The Beverly Hillbillies and The Flintstones were childhood joys that I can't rewatch as an adult.
Variety shows have vanished from television. I can't think of The Red Skelton Show without feeling a little sentimental. Partly I think because of his mimed hobo (Freddie the Tramp?). He was probably the last trace on vaudeville in TV. And the Jackie Gleason Show featuring The Honeymooners.
I'm not a big fan of objectivity. Least of all with popular culture. But I wouldn't argue with anyone who called The Honeymooner's the best early sitcom. That they were working class, almost poor, living in a cheap apartment, not a house certainly made it stand out. Far away from the world of Ward and June Cleaver. The Live of Riley was a popular early sitcom. The episodes with William Benix are what people remember. Amiable and forgettable. But Gleason played Riley for a two seasons. Gleason's version was sometimes stark, grim. I think there must've been something personal in what he put in his television work.
When CBN was showing old sitcoms I got to see old shows I'd never seen or even heard of and rewatch shows from my childhood. Watching Mr. Ed again was a surprise. I'd only remembered it as a premise only slightly less preposterous than My Mother the Car (Jerry Van Dyke's mother was reincarnated in an old Model-T he owned, quickly cancelled).
Mr. Ed may be the best of the suburban sitcoms which Bewitched and Burns & Allen were in part. The key element in the suburban sitcom is the neighbor. He is usually cranky, older, richer, more cultured or at least more hoity-toity. Wilbur Post, Ed's technical master, had a couple of fine neighbors. No critical thought went in to this but the neighbors were often as telling about the American middle-classes pretensions as more learned works. Certainly more fun.
And for the first time I saw the legendary Car 54, Where Are You? It didn't run in Savannah which only had two TV stations back then. Everybody made fun of the title. Johhny Carson only had to say "