I wrote this pair of posts some weeks ago, but I was reluctant to publish them because of one show on the list. The reputation of Bill Cosby has taken a strong hit this summer, with many women accusing him of reprehensible behavior. On the one hand, an American is presumed innocent until proven guilty. On the other hand, I feared that just by mentioning his show, I might be considered approving (or at least caring) of the things he is accused of doing. Finally I decided to include his show on the list, not as any endorsement of sinful behavior, but because the man and his stories have entertained generations of Americans, regardless of what we may continue to learn about his personal life.
With that qualification, my list continues.
Happy Days (1974-1984): I was tempted to leave this show off the list so I could include Welcome Back, Kotter, or maybe even ALF. Happy Days, though, was the most popular show of its time, reveling in nostalgia for the 1950s in the middle and end of the 1970s. When I was in high school, I saw it every week. Opie Taylor from Mayberry was now Richie Cunningham—the actor, Ron Howard, went on to be a successful director.
When Things Were Rotten (1975): Another sparkling Mel Brooks creation, this show was canceled after only thirteen episodes. I didn’t miss a single one, and I wish more had been made. The story of Robin Hood is skillfully and comically played. Mel Brooks would later make a feature film of the same theme: Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
One Day at a Time (1975-1984): A single mother is raising two teen-aged daughters, and I thought all three of them were beautiful. Though the focus of the show was usually on the mother, both the daughters were central to the story in most episodes.
WKRP (1978-1982): Another terrific show with a cast of characters supporting one another, this time at a radio station in Cincinnati. Everyone probably had his or her favorite character, but mine was newsman Les Nessman. Among other foibles, Les always had a bandage on some part of his body—a different location every week.
Mork and Mindy (1978-1982): Robin Williams played Mork, a visitor from outer space trying to understand life among humans on Earth. Robin Williams was at his best in this show, that gave him enough script to sustain a plot and enough freedom for his extemporaneous comedy.
Family Ties (1982-1989): One of the shows that would establish NBC’s Must-See TV on Thursday nights, the premise of Family Ties was that liberals from the 1960s are trying to raise a family in the 1980s. Their oldest son Alex, played by Michael J. Fox, has the conservative values of the Reagan era, while Mallory is a material girl. The younger children are not as memorable, I find.
Cheers (1982-1993): Another part of Must-See TV, and in my opinion the best of the group. Ted Danson is Sam Malone, a retired baseball player who owns a bar in Boston; Shelley Long is Dianne, a graduate student who takes a job working in the bar. As in many other sit-coms, the supporting cast added greatly to the show, particularly barflies Norm and Cliff. While I have always wanted to be the informed and reasonable voice of Spock, I have always feared that I am really Cliff Claybourne.
Newhart (1982-1990): The best comedy of this time period not on NBC, Bob Newhart now owns an inn in Vermont. Bob is even more ordinary, and the characters surrounding him are even more eccentric. Who can forget, “This is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl”? After a splendid run, the show ended in 1990 with the best farewell show ever.
Bill Cosby (1984-1992): Bill Cosby is an incredibly talented storyteller. In this show, which became the anchor of Must-See TV, Cosby’s stories are expanded into a story of an American family which happens to be black, but the humor is not racial humor; it simply is family humor.
Night Court (1984-1992): The last and weakest comedy member of Must-See TV (which also included the drama Hill Street Blues), the judge and his assistants in a night court must handle a running series of odd people moving through the court. Maybe I should have dropped this show in favor of Welcome Back, Kotter, but I did watch it every week while waiting for Hill Street Blues to start.