I first decided to write this blog, let’s call it tribute, when I heard the very sad news about the Cheers replica bar in Boston closing, roughly 6 months ago, on August 30, 2020. You see the original bar was called the Bull & Finch Pub but was modeled and transformed into the iconic Cheers. While this was done mostly for Television (TV), the Boston bar itself became a huge tourist attraction creating a bit of a “Bar-Pub” culture, based on the acceptance and support that honored and befriended anyone, in any walk of life – all being welcomed no matter what - it was a place where everybody knew your name.
We’ll return to Cheers after station identification – don’t touch that dial. But first let’s touch a bit on Television itself to set the scene. I’ll admit I am a TV baby – I grew up, as did the development of television, alongside both TV’s technical capabilities as well as the actual shows themselves. Yes, I remember the old black and white TV’s with the clunky dials to change the channel and volume – then the colorized screens which just gave the TV screen a shaded (color) view, and then the advent of actual color picture TV’s. The remote control followed, screens went from 12” up to Samsung’s newly developed 292” screen, and today we have TV’s that are actually computers that live stream broadcasts and so much more.
It’s amazing how technology has changed televisions and the shows themselves have also greatly evolved. I see old re-runs of my childhood favorites like McHale’s Navy, Car 54, F-Troop, and Mr. Ed, and I am amazed as to how I thought they were so funny and great as a very young man, and how today they don’t see quite so funny or good. But it was a simpler time back then and we were entertained with laughter and wholesome values in these shows. While the TV technology and Shows content, has advanced, and much of these advancements for the betterment of entertainment, not all the advancements are good, nor wholesome, any more.
The shows have gone from pure, thought provoking, and humorous, content to challenging, violent, disrespectful, sex consumed, and downright crude content. The computerization of TV’s has led to a plethora of, I’m just going to call it craziness instead of what most would say, trying to film the most outlandish, unsafe, crude, and dangerous activities or stunts just to be seen on TV, and to one-up the last rash of craziness that has been filmed for everyone’s view and amazement. Today you can see nearly anything on TV – yes, I mean anything, and while most advancements have been positive, I don’t think we need to see many of the content, stunts, or manipulated and contrived video’s that are becoming far too prevalent today…Gorilla Glue comes to mind!!! (If you don’t know this reference – you can Google it – just make sure you Google all of it because this act was no accident as it was portrayed)
Anyway, the previous points could be an entire story in themselves, but I regress back to the subject of this Blog.
There are huge numbers of very well performed and designed television shows today. The educational, historical, and scientific, shows are many and so very well done with enhanced research, digital photography, and creative writing – a great value and resource. But I want to focus today on just plain-pure entertainment.
We all have had our favorite shows, much like the songs and artists I spoke about last week in the “Whistle a Happy Tune,” Blog. Today we will focus on my two favorite shows, and give a school grade to others, in hopes this will bring back some great memories and evoke some thoughts, reactions, and possibly some debate.
For each period of time I have different favorites, much like all of you, I’m guessing. I was too young in the 50’s to remember many shows. Other than the two shows I’m going to feature later, here are my favorites per decade. In the 60’s my favorite shows were Dick Van Dyke and Perry Mason which are both still great entertainment today. In the 70’s my favorite shows were Happy Days and The Bob Newhart Show. In the 80’s it was Three’s Company up until Chrissy Snow (Suzanne Somers) left and Magnum PI (original). The 90’s, it was NewsRadio prior to Bill McNeal’s (Phil Hartman) death and X-Files prior to Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) leaving. In the 2000’s, it was Psych and Boston Legal. In the 2010’s it was Downton Abby and Jeopardy, and finally in the 2020’s, so far, it’s been A Million Little Things and the Kid’s Baking Championship.
Now for my two feature shows. I have to say my favorite all time show was Cheers, with NCIS a close second. However, as we see with many of the successful shows, they go through changes in casts and writers, many of which change the show’s dynamics. So, I will qualify these shows, and nearly every show I list, based on these factors, using the old school grading of A+ down the F (only one show got an F). Today, regardless of grade, our love of TV shows is unprecedented. In fact, we often get so involved, and love these shows so much, that we begin referring to these actors by their show names, i.e., Cheers’ character Norm Peterson “Norm” instead of the actor’s name, George Wendt.
So, let’s start with Cheers. I truly feel this is the greatest sitcom of all time. It not surprisingly receives an “A+” from me, primarily for those first few seasons when Coach Ernie Pantusso (Nicholas Colasanto) was a regular character. I still feel the show was an “A” after Coach passed and they added Woodrow Huckleberry Tiberius Boyd “Woody” (Woody Harrelson), and while Woody certainly had his own down-home Indiana charm, it was just a tiny bit less funny than Coach’s very slow witted and somewhat dense humor. Cheers remained an “A” until the departure of Diane (Shelly Long). I feel the show slid to a “B” immediately and digressed to a “D” when it finally concluded in 1993, after eleven seasons.
Along with being a very endearing and funny show, with a super cast of unique everyday walk of life characters, Cheers launched almost a cult following from this supposed Boston bar. Tourist attraction, memorabilia, t-shirts, posters, slogans and sayings, and tributes soon followed the shows success. It launched the successful sitcom Frasier, which ironically also aired for eleven years, and introduced us to many new cheers like characters. I rate Frasier and “A,” prior to Daphne-Niles tying the knot, and a “B” after their wedding. Cheers also launched a culture of very witty one-liner saying’s, that character Norm would utter, when he was greeted by the entire bar yelling “N O R M,” every time he entered the bar. These would become known as “Normisms,” which I and many fans just loved. Here are my top ten “Normisms” (plus one for good measure) examples:
Coach: Can I draw you a beer Norm?
Norm: No, I know what they look like, just pour me one!
Coach: What’ll it be Normie?
Norm: Just the usual Coach, I’ll have a froth of beer and a snorkel!
Coach: What’s shaking Norm?
Norm: All four cheeks and a couple of chins Coach!
Sam: Whatcha up to Norm?
Norm: My ideal weight if I were eleven feet tall!
Sam: Hey Norm, how’s the world been treating you?
Norm: like a baby treats a diaper!
Sam: What’ll you have Normie?
Norm: I’m in a gambling mood Sammy, I’ll take whatever comes out of that tap.
Sam: Look’s like beer Norm.
Norm: Call me Mr. Lucky!
Sam: How about a beer, Norm?
Norm: That’s the amber sudsy stuff, right? I’ve heard good things about it!
Woody: How’s it going Mr. Peterson?
Norm: It’s a dog-eat-dog world Woody, and I’m wearing Milk Bone underwear!
Woody: What’s going on Mr. Peterson?
Norm: The question is, what’s going IN Mr. Peterson – beer please!
Woody: Can I pour you a draft Mr. Peterson?
Norm: A little early isn’t it Woody?
Woody: For a beer?
Norm: No, for stupid questions!
Woody: Hey Mr. Peterson, there’s a cold one waiting for you.
Norm: I know, and if she calls, I’m not here!
There was a lot of great comedy, personalities, and genuine “LIFE” emanating from that TV screen when watching this show. And there were times when I laughed so hard, I nearly choked myself. It was great entertainment – if you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend it. However, because the evolution of the characters, and their interactions with the others is so critical, I recommend watching the show in order from season one, episode 1 on until the end, or at least until Diane leaves the show. (they did do a reunion type show with Diane returning but it wasn’t quite as good as the originals)
My next favorite show is NCIS. This show has run for 18 seasons, from September 23, 2003 until today (still running). I first saw the show while on business travel in Europe and the first two episodes I watched ended with one of the show’s stars being killed. That was a new one for me. Yes, we see stars of shows near death, all the time, but the one flaw in these stories is the fact that we know they won’t kill-off one of the stars – but on this show they did. This intrigued me so much that, when I came home, my wife and I started watching the series from the very beginning and we haven’t missed an episode yet. This show blends true life drama, comedy, human frailty, elation, depression, and most importantly is very passionate towards its victims and towards our servicemen and women. This show has been brilliant, at times, and just plain really good at it’s weakest. Unfortunately, the show is not quite as great today with the loss of some key characters/actors, but prior to Tony Dinozzo (Michael Weatherly) leaves in season 13, and Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) leaving, at the end of season 15, I had never seen a bad or weak show.
Most recently, I have become a fan of the Food Network TV shows – no surprise to those who know me 😊. My interest mostly started with Chopped and Triple D (Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives). Chopped was great, in the earlier episodes, but lately it has started to get really bizarre in some of the more recent shows. Triple D was great getting to see all the unique dining spots, and dishes they prepared, from all over the country. However, because of challenges with Covid-19, there are not a lot of new episodes of Triple D. In fact, prior to Covid, when my wife and I would travel, we would make it a point to visit restaurants that had been featured on Triple D. One weekend, having nothing planned, we decided to drive from Greenwood Indiana to Minneapolis Minnesota, for the weekend, just to visit Smack Shack for their lobster covered burgers, which we had seen featured on Triple D – their food was great. The other Food Network shows, which I find quite cool are the Kids Baking Championship, Halloween Wars, Cake Wars – Buddy vs. Duff, and I kind-of like Worst Cooks in America (although I’m not a huge fan of Chef Anne). On Kids Baking championship, It’s great to see how good these kids are at cooking, and on Halloween Wars, the things they do with pumpkins and other foods are incredible. Finally, on Worst Cooks, it’s amazing how bad these people are and how much they improve in just 6 weeks. On Cake Wars, Buddy and Duff are two of the best in the world and they assemble teams to compete at making outlandishly designed, and huge and complex in size, cake presentations – these cakes are absolutely amazing – you have to see this show at least one.
Another key point that determines TRUE greatness, is true quality TV shows versus shows that are popular, but not necessarily the best quality. For example, there have been shows that were good or average but became a must conversation piece around the water cooler – the shows became status makers because vocal office people proclaimed their greatness. This was followed by people flocking to watch these shows just so they could be in the know and schmooze about them in the offices. There are three shows that come to mind; Friends, Seinfeld, and The Office. Friends was a good show until they decided to award celebrity instead of content and gave every cast member huge raises. This resulted in the show no longer hiring their good writers and replacing them with lesser quality content because they could not afford to pay both the “stars” and the writers. This exact same scenario happened to Big Bang Theory. Seinfeld was a better than average show with diverse and unusual characters. Because of this odd yet compelling nuance, this show became a huge hit, not because of its quality but because no-one wanted to be the odd-ball in the office who wasn’t watching the show. The Office is very much like Seinfeld, add to it that It is actual portrayed in an office environment, so people can relate, and associate their teammates, to the shows characters. Each of these shows had their moments of good and even better, but for the most part they were part of the popular “Fad” and not truly great shows.
Finally, Television is an escape for most people. Good or bad, it is sought out entertainment which can fill a void or offer relief in a stressful or otherwise trying day, week, or time in our lives. The truly great shows are worth the time to be entertained, and become part of the shows portrayed world, or become close to the characters we grow to love. When this occurs, the show, the writing, the characters, and the make-up of the entire cast, are all great and thus it becomes as valuable to some as reading a book, riding a bike, or playing a musical instrument. When these shows fall short of greatness, their value to most of us, and society as a whole diminishes.
Today most TV is not worth watching. As Bruce Springsteen sang: “57 channels and there’s nothing on!” Today it’s more like 257 channels, and still nothing worth watching. But give me a great show, and I will watch it anytime I sit down and turn on the tube. It’s amazing how many times I search through the entire guide of channels just to either give up and go do something else, or give up and load Netflix or Hulu to watch some reruns of a classic show. TV was once proclaimed the “Vast Wasteland” (Newton Norman "Newt" Minow; 1959) and for many of todays shows, it was, is, and will continue to be. But for me in my youth, in my school years, as a young adult, and still to a lesser extent today, the classic shows bring me great memories, wonderful laughter, romantic interludes, and serious thought-provoking drama – this is what Television was, and is, supposed to be, and it hits the mark with these classics!!!
Epilogue: I got some great comments and suggestions from my song and artist rankings in last week’s Blog: “Whistle a Happy Tune,” so I thought I would list my personal TV Show ratings as well. My disclaimer is that these are only shows I have watched either regularly or occasionally. It would not be appropriate to rate show’s I have not seen. Only my opinion REMEMBER 😊.
I hope these lists will spark some thoughts and bring back some great memories!!!
These shows will be shown by grade alone in no particular order:
Cheers - Prior to Coach passing
NCIS - Prior to Kate leaving
BONES - Prior to Zack leaving
News Radio – Prior to Bill McNeal’s passing
Greys Anatomy - Prior to Burke leaving
Night Court - With Christine Sullivan
Scrubs - Prior to Zach Braff leaving
Psych - Prior to the last season
MASH - Prior to Henry and Trapper Leaving
Happy Days - Prior to Arnold leaving
Dick Van Dyke - Shows primarily portrayed in the Writers Office
Mary Tyler More - Prior to Rhoda leaving
This is Us - Seasons 1-3
A Million Little Things - Prior to Maggie-Gary breakup
Picket Fences - After Don Cheadle started
X-Files - Before Mulder left
Boston Legal - With Brad and Denise
Modern Family - Seasons 1-3
The Bob Newhart Show
Friends - Seasons 1-4
Kids Baking Championship
Cake Wars – Buddy vs. Duff
Halloween Baking Championship
Cheers - Prior to Diane leaving
NCIS - Prior to Tony Leaving
BONES - After Zack leaves
Three’s company – Prior to Chrissy Snow leaving
Greys Anatomy - Prior to George leaving
Happy Days - Prior to Richie leaving
Dick Van Dyke - All Other shows
Mary Tyler More - After Rhoda left
A Million Little Things - After Maggie-Gary breakup
Picket Fences - Before Don Cheadle started
Boston Legal - After Brad and Denise left
Taxi - With Jim/Iggy and Latka
I Love Lucy
Tonight Show with Johnny Carson - Monologues
Late night with David Letterman - Monologues, stupid pet tricks, and top 10 lists
Frasier - Prior to Daphne-Niles wedding
The Equalizer (Original)
The Cosby Show
Big Bang Theory - Original Writers up to Season 6
NCIS – LA
NCIS - Prior to Abby leaving
Greys Anatomy - Prior to Izzy leaving
Night Court - Before Christine Sullivan
Hawaii 5-0 (original)
Carol Burnett Show - With Tim Conway
Doogie Howser M. D.
All in The Family
The Odd Couple
The Wonder Years
The Beverly Hillbillies
Law and Order
The Twilight Zone
Seinfeld - For its pop culture water cooler impact
Frasier - After Daphne-Niles wedding
Everybody loves Raymond
How I Met Your Mother
Star Trek Next Generation - Prior to the Borg
Will and Grace (Original)
Andy Griffith Show
Worst Cook’s in America
Triple D (Diners, Dives, and Drive-ins)
Greys Anatomy - Prior to Dereck leaving
Scrubs - After Zach Braff left
MASH - After Trapper and Henry left
This is Us - After season 3
X-Files - After Mulder left
Modern Family - After season 3
Hill Street Blues
Taxi - Without Jim/Iggy and Latka
Tonight Show with Johnny Carson - Guests and skits
Friends - After season 4
Late Night with David Letterman - Guests and other skits
Saturday Night Live - 1970's episodes
Star Trek Next Generation - After the Borg
One Day at a Time
Sex and the City
NCIS - New Orleans
Cheers - After Diane left
NCIS - After Abby left
Psych - The final season
Happy Days - After Richie left
Carol Burnett Show - Without Tim Conway
Greys Anatomy - After Dereck left