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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I've been watching TV comedy pilots because I'm writing a spec pilot. I went to the library and went through a whole bunch of '70's pilots (THE JEFFERSONS, CHICO AND THE MAN, etc.).

A lot of it was unwatchable. Or at least, I couldn't watch it. Man, most old TV doesn't hold up any more. It's slow and the jokes seem obvious. The situations seem forced and the characters seem cartoonish, without being full of cartoonish life.

(To be fair, I don't watch THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE either, for the same reasons. It feels like old TV.)

M*A*S*H holds up, though these days it would probably be an hour drama with banter, not a half hour, I think. LUCY holds up. What old TV comedy holds up?

If you're looking for a Golden Age of TV, it has got to be now. Single camera comedies like 30 ROCK and EXTRAS and THE OFFICE and ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM ... actually, there are a fair number of single camera comedies that aren't really "like" anything. Same goes for dramas like MAD MEN and ROME and SOPRANOS.

Pilots often suck. 30 ROCK didn't really hit its stride for me until about episode 9 of season 1. (1.09, in the parlance.) What TV comedy pilots really knock your socks off?

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I thought that the MARY TYLER MOORE show holds up.

Hmmm, THE ODD COUPLE, perhaps?

And TAXI still works, I think.

And I'm a fan of HAPPY DAYS before Fonzie jumped the shark, particularly the first couple years ...

By Blogger Joshua James, at 10:01 PM  

going back and watching the pilot of mad men after being completely up to date with the series, they really altered the style, especially masters and music. if you go back you'll notice music quite similar to 30 rock, something i certainly don't miss. mad men i feel has one of the most interesting "tightening-ups" so to speak of style in recent memory. (not to discredit their initial vision, which cinematography-wise remains quite true to it, they've just come to realize what works and what does not).

By Blogger skaughtm, at 10:08 PM  

On the "Golden Age" bit I was actually thinking that too last night as I caught up on my last week's recordings of MODERN FAMILY and COMMUNITY. The pilots of both were very good, and the writing style (especially of COMMUNITY) is really satisfying, though it's so high-density sometimes I find myself hitting "instant reply" so I can make sure I didn't miss an extra little joke somewhere.

By Blogger J.Rai, at 9:24 AM  

Mary Tyler Moore for sure, along with The Addams Family and early seasons of The Beverly Hillbillies.

What's really surprising is Mary Hartman Mary Hartman, which seems so "right now."

By Blogger Lisa, at 10:22 AM  

Old comedies that still hold up?

SOAP (though it's been a while since I seen it)

By Blogger daveed, at 11:49 AM  

Last year I went through a few seasons of Cheers on DVD. Still funnier and tighter than most sitcoms today.

By Blogger tommy, at 12:48 PM  

WKRP and FAMILY TIES really still stand out with their smart writing.

By Blogger sean, at 9:03 PM  

Absolutely WKRP stands up. Wonderful moments - venus explaining the atom, breast stroking, no it says *imagine* there's no heaven, the first thing I should have done when I got here was fired Herb and Les... it's just a shame that music rights held up the DVD release for so long.

By Blogger leannet3, at 11:33 PM  

BTW, I looked up WKRP to rent -- apparently the DVD release does not have the original music.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 8:17 AM  

thats what held up KRP forever...and may be why only season 1 is out on DVD? I wonder what they did with scenes where the song was integral to the story? Did they just cut out the 'You're having my baby' bit altogether?

OT: for some reason Larry Sanders is also only available as 'Season 1' or 'Best of Larry'-another shame.

By Blogger sean, at 8:32 PM  

BARNEY MILLER - I've been rewatching them since WGN started running them on Sunday nights, and not only is it still funny, in some ways it was creepily topical... this past weekend they ran second season episode where Fish was griping about a swine flu outbreak and the banking systems collapsing...

By Blogger John Hudgens, at 1:34 PM  

To add to many good ones already mentioned:

DICK VAN DYKE SHOW - still brilliant
ALL IN THE FAMILY - pacing & staging feels dated, but the content is still shocking and O'Connor is still brilliant

As for pilots, MTM is great out of the gate, and might be the perfect textbook for a sitcom pilot. SOAP and TAXI take awhile to get their footing but click by mid season 1.

By Blogger Jason Mittell, at 8:35 PM  

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