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Boston Frog

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  1. Boston Frog
    Norman Lear almost killed TV in the 1970s. Oh, sure, he, Bud Yorkin and a few of their pals revolutionized the medium, and most of what they made was absolutely brilliant: All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude, Good Times and One Day at a Time, to name a prominent few. In the dying days of the Vietnam conflict and during the collective shame of Watergate, America craved yelling, screaming and fighting on television. (And maybe we still do in troubled times; look at the reality-TV boom of the early 2000s and all the events that occurred in that era. Apparently escapism isn't all it's cracked up to be and never has been.)
    The brilliance of Lear's creations was that, although the "liberal" side almost always won in his programs' episodes, viewers of all political and social stripes had somebody to embrace. Archie Bunker, most prominently by far, was supposed to be an easy-to-hate, ready-made bigot always comically set up for a fall by his own backward thinking or that of his goofy friends, or by his daughter and cultured son-in-law (and even sometimes by his sweet wife). Maude herself gave Archie fits in the early years of the series, as did George Jefferson and Irene Lorenzo. Pretty much all of Lear's subsequent creations (the successful ones, anyway) emerged like smoke from Archie's cigar. Archie Bunker was pater familias of the most dysfunctional extended TV family of all time. But a funny thing happened on the way to Archie becoming a villain. He became a hero. So many Americans loved him so much--warts, humiliations, bald-faced bigotry and all--that the show's producers eventually had to make the show all about him. The liberals faded, slowly, as did most of Archie's nemeses. Gloria disappeared. Meathead disappeared. Maude got her own show fairly early on. The Jeffersons got one even earlier. Even Edith, beloved wife, got killed off when Jean Stapleton quit the show. But Archie soldiered on, eventually half-spinning off into a show that really was all about him, Archie Bunker's Place. It ran into the Reagan administration, which surely would have pleased a real Archie Bunker.
    Archie possessed the same charm that Howard Stern used to rule the airwaves for a decade or two and that Donald Trump is using now to try to ascend to the highest office in the land. He said what he felt when he felt like saying it, and he didn't care who heard or what other people thought. Americans love a loudmouth, almost no matter what he (or she) says, and let's face it: Archie was lovable! And hilarious! And not always wrong! Mostly, that was because Carroll O'Connor gave the character more wrinkles than Abe Vigoda has on his whole body (if, indeed, Mr. Vigoda is still alive, and I think he is). But it was also because Archie said what a lot of Americans were thinking at the time, and the funny part is that history has proven him right on at least a few occasions. At the end of the Jimmy Carter election episode in 1976, maybe 1977, Archie barked to Meathead, "You're getting Reagan in '80!" And on another famous episode, Archie's televised proposal to arm every passenger on an airplane with a pistol in order to prevent hijackings foreshadowed the era of air marshals post-September 11.
    But back to Norman Lear almost killing television. In a nutshell, it all got to be too much. All in the Family's ratings started to slip, just a little bit, in 1976 and fell from there. Maude suffered a similar fate. George and Weezy lasted into the mid-'80s but with a vastly changed set of messages. They basically went from serious to silly. George ended up doing the unthinkable and palling around with Tom Wills! One Day at a Time also softened considerably, eliminating the contentious divorced-father character and turning Schneider, the famous building super, from a somewhat lecherous dude always wanting to boink Ms. Romano into a protector of the single mother and her girls (or girl, of course, after poor McKenzie Phillips went off the rails and took Julie Cooper with her). Good Times should have ended when John Amos left the cast. In any case, fighting got old. Yelling and screaming got old. Politics got old. No other entity can overdo a good thing and pound it mercilessly into the ground the way American television can. That's what was happening in the late '70s. The outlook was bleak. The Lear formula was boring, but networks kept trying it. And then somebody at ABC came to his (or her) senses.
    What you're about to see is powerful. It's borderline mind-blowing. This is how ABC responded to CBS and Norman Lear's hegemony on television. Stripping away all pretension, ABC went old school. It brought back stand-up-style comedy, sort of (Welcome Back, Kotter). It brought in an alien for more, and more bizarre, stand-up stuff (Mork and Mindy, of course). It brought back hot chicks, sexual tension and broad physical comedy (Three's Company). It brought something of a yeller-screamer show to the fore, but it made the conflicts personal, not political, and it gave multiple characters enviable depth, not just one or two (Taxi). And it brought back the '50s (Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley)! When in doubt, bring back the '50s. Nothing bad ever happened in the '50s, right, Archie Bunker? Now, ABC's revolution didn't start in 1978. It had been going for a few years, and by the time the long-form trailer below hit advertising agencies, ABC had become the No. 1 network on television, mainly by killing off Archie Bunker with Mork, the Fonz and Suzanne Summers. Behold:

    Now, let's take these gems one by one.
    Welcome Back, Kotter: It didn't have long to run, as Vinny Barbarino would soon be on his way out and Beau de la Barre on his way in, but Welcome Back, Kotter managed to capture inner-city pathos without pounding us over the head with it. There were two white guys, a black guy and a Puerto Rican Jew serving as the main characters on this show, along with a Jew-fro'ed, mustachioed, wise-cracking teacher who himself had been a Sweathog a scant decade or so before taking over in the classroom. We didn't ask why guys from diverse racial backgrounds were friends. (Norman Lear would have hammered that angle.) All we knew was that they were scamps, mostly low-level troublemakers who wouldn't so much as be called down in the classroom in today's era of school violence. And they loved the one guy they could relate to, the one guy who got them, who had been one of them in a not-so-distant former life. This is probably one of the better shows about teaching and classrooms ever made (Head of the Class also comes to mind) in part because it mostly deals with the everyday, fairly mundane problems that seem so magnified and earth-shattering in high school. There's really not much in the way of hard drug use, alcoholism, teenage sex or domestic violence on Kotter. (Again, Norman Lear would have had a field day with that stuff.) The guys worry about girls, sports, their hair, whatever. Kotter just wants to keep them out of trouble--not life-changing trouble, necessarily, just school trouble. This show teaches without preaching. That's why it worked in the let-up era of the late '70s.
    Operation Petticoat: This one doesn't jog the memory for me, but it looks sufficiently slapstick to fit into the lineup. Hey, not every hit is a home run.
    Taxi: This must have been Taxi's first season. (I did no research for this entry.) This show is criminally underrated (yes, really) and merits a long blog entry of its own. What made it appealing was an amazing cast and characters that people cared about because they seemed like people, not like the political caricatures Norman Lear (skillfully) drew. Sure, there was conflict, but there was also resolution (most of the time, anyway) and the strong feeling that these people could, and maybe did, actually exist. And seriously, that cast: Judd Hirsch, Danny Devito, Marilu Henner, Tony Danza (yeah, OK, but he had a pretty good career after Taxi), Jeff Conaway, Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future!) and, for heaven's sake, the unbelievable, inimitable, completely mold-breaking Andy Kaufman. And Carol Kane as his wife! Other than the cars and the telephones, this show holds up well today. It has a timelessness that the Archie Bunker family tree mostly doesn't have. That's not to say that Norman Lear's creations weren't great. They were. They just weren't set up to be relevant 40 years after they aired.
    Happy Days: The show that ended up originating the phrase "jump the shark" (which now dates to the late '90s, ouch!) hadn't quite done it yet in 1978. It was still goofy Richie and his pals, cool Fonz (how was he ever cool? ... that's another blog entry) and the straight-laced Cunninghams. Smooth and easy. Satisfying. Nostalgic for the middle-aged folks and yet entertaining enough for the kids. This show was emblematic of the ABC revolution and led the way. It didn't need to be brilliant. It just needed to be fun, and it was ... until Chachi came along.
    Laverne & Shirley: Happy Days with girls! And more laughs! And more goofiness! And Carmine "the big Ragu" Ragusa, the world's first dancing tough guy! And one of the great theme songs of all time! After half a decade of strife, yeah, people were ready for this. And it was great ... until they moved to California.
    Three's Company: Based on a British show (as so much of our television is, check out Til Death Us Do Part sometime) called Man about the House, this show became emblematic of mindless drivel on television and was probably the most prominent antidote of all to Norman Lear's seriousness. But you know what? Three's Company was funny. John Ritter was a brilliant physical comedian. The writing was vaudevillian in the best possible way. The setting, Southern California in the '70s, could not have been more enticing. And there were blondes, so many blondes, blondes with big hair and short shorts and halter tops. And there were the Ropers, and after the Ropers came Mr. Furley, who was actually funnier than the Ropers! As a kid, I wanted to live in Three's Company, just in the same neighborhood as Jack, Janet and Chrissy/can't remember the middle one's name/Terri. This show is still great today because innuendo, mild situational irony and a horny straight dude having to pretend to be gay will never get old. By the way, that gay thing ... Ridiculous as it might have been on this show, homosexuality was something Norman Lear never really, really breached in his a career, at least not prominently. Just saying.
    Starsky & Hutch: Overrated. Sorry, but it was. Great cars, cool clothes, but it got repetitive. But crime dramas get that way. Sacrilege, I know, but I don't care. Definitely cool at the time, though, and yes, I still have the toy car.
    Vegas: This, however, was great. Robert Urich is underrated historically. I never figured out, though, why he parked his car right in his house, or apartment, or whatever it was. Didn't the engine make the place hot? Didn't the car smell? Whatever, awesome show. Dan Tanna. Seriously.
    Charlie's Angels: Its best days were past it (Farah Fawcett returns to guest star ... ugh), but three beautiful women fighting crime for some guy we never see? Again, after Maude, America needed this. America wanted this, no matter how much Maude would have hated it. (Or would she have? It was all about female empowerment, after all.)
    Eight is Enough: TCU's own Betty Buckley! Eventually! This show was the serious Brady Bunch, but it worked because Dick Van Patten was strangely likable and Adam Rich was just cute enough. Again, ABC went with family here, but it was a family that fought over personal things, not over politics (mostly). These seemed like real people until one of the girls married a pitcher for the Dodgers.
    Mork and Mindy: Oh, wow. What is there to say? Robin Williams. An adorable Pam Dawber. Later, Jonathan Winters! A settling in Boulder that was brilliant, in that Mork could hide pretty effectively in a midsize college town that was half full of stoners, anyway. This was one long Robin Williams stand-up show, complete with his constant message of peace and kindness, with the occasional friendly chiding or shocked reaction from Mindy. And for a while, it worked. Spectacularly well. But it's hard to carry such a goofy set-up on for very long. Eventually, Mork starts figuring out Earth. He starts figuring out Mindy. He settles in. Then what? Then it's over. But what a sensation this show was, and what a brilliant and funny departure it was from the Archie Bunker family of shows. Mork was an alien right in the heart of the Star Wars era, when science fiction was huge. But he wasn't scary. He was Robin Williams, RIP and thanks. It's hard to watch this one now, but the appeal is still fresh. And remember, this was actually a Happy Days spin-off. The Fonz had a family of his own.
    What's Happening!!: Is it racist for me to say that this is very likely the best black sitcom in the history of television? Yes, really! Why was it so great? First of all, it was funny. Always funny. The characters were endearing. The scripts were memorable. (Dwayne bet on the football team that had the helmet he liked best. Tampa over Oakland? Oh, no!) There was plenty of charm to go around, from Shirley at the diner to Mama to Dee to Rerun and Dwayne to Roj, arguably television's first black nerd. But what really worked on this show was that it was about people--black people, but that didn't matter. After getting lecture after lecture from Norman Lear about race (some of them necessary, of course), here we had a program that featured black characters with no soapboxes. They were just funny characters. And the theme song was awesome. Another criminally underrated show.
    Barney Miller: Just as teachers talk about Kotter as the best classroom show ever made, cops talk about Barney Miller as the best cop show ever. Well, at least those old enough to remember it do, or used to. TV has tried so hard over the decades to come up with something both entertaining and authentic to depict the lives of police officers, but until the actual show Cops debuted, nothing had come as close as Barney Miller to nailing the scene. Sure, the cops on Barney Miller were detectives, not street cops (except for poor Levitt, of course), but their daily routine of filling out paperwork, drinking terrible coffee and dealing with fringe-ish types in Greenwich Village was much more accurate a portrait of cop life than the car-chase and gun-battle action shows that both preceded and followed the sitcom classic. Or so I've read, or been told ... or maybe I just want that to be true. In any case, here was another show that mixed characters seamlessly and didn't bother to talk much about the fact that there were white, black, Puerto Rican and Asian characters sharing the same small space. (Again, this was extremely post-racial stuff compared to All in the Family or The Jeffersons.) Even Linda Lavin had a turn as a female detective in the show's early years. Barney Miller was elite television, despite, or maybe even because of, numerous cast changes. It's still one of the best and most entertaining shows on TV, a cut well above most of what the medium has cranked out over the years.
    Soap: It wasn't Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman or Fernwood 2 Night, although the idea was similar, if not pretty much the same. Still, this show, which actually looked a bit like a Norman Lear comedy (remember, it spawned Benson), became a farcical '70s classic. Despite the always corrosive presence of Billy Crystal, Soap was a rollicking riot of a show that captured the Carter-era malaise by making every character on the show pretty much completely indifferent to every other character. This program took the feelings and anger of Lear's work and turned them into farce and complete stupidity--with hilarious results! Of course, it would never work today because the programs it parodied, soap operas, are basically dead, and realty TV has swallowed the last bit of potential irony on television.
    Family: To my somewhat limited memory, this show was Eight is Enough with fewer kids and with a budding star named Kristy McNichol, who pretty much disappeared after the show's run, save maybe for a few after-school-special-type programs. She did some damage on Battle of the Network Stars, though, another brilliant ABC creation (starring Howard Cosell and Bruce Jenner!).
    Donny & Marie: Mormon disco! This was the oldest of old-school crap. Whatever. People liked it ... for a while. It was definitely mindless, and that was appealing for the era.
    Apple Pie: One bad Apple didn't spoil the whole bunch for ABC, but this show only lasted eight episodes. I'd never actually heard of it until I saw the promo video. Sitcoms with historical settings only last if they're set in the '50s (including M*A*S*H). This was was from the '30s. Why? Still ... Dabney Coleman!
    Carter Country: Unquestionably the best mostly forgotten sitcom of all time, this show was about black and white cops in the South (Carter Country, as in Jimmy) but still managed to be mostly silly, with Roy, the gruff police chief; Kene Holliday's savvy cop character; and the Mayor, who coined the catchphrase, "Handle it, Roy! Handle it! Handle it!" goofing around in a small-town Georgia police station. This was a sillier version of Barney Miller that lacked Barney's gravitas but nevertheless turned out to be pretty entertaining. And again, we're mainly in post-Lear racial territory here, with everybody getting along for the most part and their relationships requiring no real explanation. Carter Country was an absolute delight and was as late-'70s as Sam Houston was Texan. It's a gem to see these days if it pops up on one of the nostalgia channels. Why this show didn't get a more legendary treatment remains a mystery.
    The Love Boat: Oh, wow. Oh, wow oh wow. I'm not saying that I named my first born after Isaac the bartender, but I'm not saying I didn't. Because I kind of did, kind of. This is a cultural touchstone if there ever was one. Basically a reference point for cheesy television, The Love Boat nevertheless ran for a very long time and roped in every guest star imaginable from mid-'70s and early '80s television. What an absolute tour de force of sappy, goofball television this was. Needed a break from Norman Lear's preachy creations? Oh, America, you got it. I mean you really got it.
    Fantasy Island: This show was awful, awful, awful. Diabolically acted, amateurishly cast, drippily dramatic and borderline scary, it's hard to believe that it's still pretty much the defining role of Ricardo Montalban's career. Still, again, it was a break from what the first half of the decade had brought to television. The unintentional comedy on this show was rampant, though, something I've mainly discovered watching the program in recent years on nostalgia TV. How did TV execs of the era green light this stuff? And how did it stay so popular for so long? Was Tatu really that cute? (By the way, Herve Villechaise, who was from Paris, had normal-sized organs in that tiny body and lived every day in excruciating pain. Which is sad. But apparently his not-dwarfy genitals were popular with the ladies. Really! Aren't you glad you read this far? I know. Nobody did.)
    The Hardy Boys: I vaguely remember this show, but what I don't remember about it was it being the gayest show ever. NTTAWWT, of course. But still. Wow, so gay. I actually feel some sense of retro happiness for all the poor, closeted gentlemen who, at least, got to get excited about seeing this show on Saturday nights, even if they couldn't express their true selves in the open in 1978. Good for you, guys, really. Somehow, Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy (IMDB profile photo from 1978, no joke) are still working, Cassidy as a pretty big-time producer. There's no business like it. (OK, so I did a tiny bit of research. IMDB is a day killer.)
    Movies: Taxi Driver on network TV? How? I'm pretty sure I saw The Bad News Bears on ABC in 1978, deleted bad words and all. And Battlestar Galactica, wow, what a great show and franchise that was. World class, and I'm not even a sci-fi guy, normally.
    And then there's a musical number at the end of the video! (Remember the video? That's what all of this was supposed to be about.) Mr. Cunningham, Isaac, Shirley, Barney Miller ... they're all there, grooving to a mild disco beat. I've seen better promo dance numbers (much better), but it's charming nonetheless. And that voice of ABC was the best TV voice ever.
    Norman Lear was a genius, a revolutionary and quite possibly the most important person in the history of scripted American television. But when enough was enough, ABC came through with a lineup so powerful that its awesomeness and grandeur still resonate today. And most of all, it was fun. It defined the greatest era in human history, the late '70s. And it kept the beautiful medium, television, from eating itself. We owe much to Mork, the Fonz, Wojo, Alex Reger, Roj and even the Mayor from Carter Country. Long may their legacy endure.
  2. Boston Frog
    If we must have another Super Bowl, and I suppose we must, then can't somebody have the common decency to put on an entertaining halftime show? I've heard that someone named Bruno Mars--until very recently, I had literally no idea who he was--is going to "entertain" us on Sunday night. Awesome. Yeah, I know it's only halftime, and I know that as a fan, I'm supposed to watch for the football, not for the commercials or the corporate pageantry or the three-day pregame show which, I believe, has already started. (It kind of never ends on NFL Network, anyway.)
    But I don't like Peyton Manning, and I've never liked Denver. I still haven't forgiven Wes Welker for dropping Tom Brady's fourth Super Bowl ring. And while I actually had some fan loyalty to the Seattle Seahawks as a kid in the mid-'80s (hence the dislike of Denver), I find Pete Carroll repulsive both in principle and in practice. The man drove me to cheer for the Texas Longhorns a few years back. This is serious dislike.
    Somebody I despise is going to celebrate on Sunday, and I'm not sure how interested I actually am in seeing that. I don't love football the way I used to, and I no longer think of the Super Bowl in reverent terms. If anything, it's basically our vastly over-commercialized culture crapping out its last bit of marketing waste left over from Christmas. Just squeezing off that last pinch, with Americans, as always, clamoring to get a sniff. If defense still existed in the NFL--the surviving members of Doomsday and the Steel Curtain laugh mockingly at Seattle's "league best" crew--I might feel differently. Or if players still worse jerseys with flappy sleeves. Or with those three-quarter-length sleeves. Or with sleeves at all. Or if the Rams were in LA (or Cleveland, even...), the Colts in Baltimore, the Oilers in Houston, the Raiders in Oakland...wait, hang on...
    Anyway, I've watched my favorite childhood team (the Cowboys) and my favorite team from adulthood (the Patriots, whom I've supported since 1993, actually) win Super Bowls. The first ones in my lifetime were great. The rest were less exciting. Why I should get myself pumped up for a game between two franchises that inspire indifference as my kindest emotion is beyond me. And why I should watch halftime of said spectacle is way, way beyond me.
    Back in the days of six or seven channels (we always had more than four in DFW, to my memory), I'd watch any sporting event on TV at pretty much any time. Women's golf? Better than the movie of the week. Usually. Beach volleyball? Yeah! Beach volleyball with dudes? Eh, it's still a sport, so sure. Football? Always. At all times. No question. Baseball? Actually, yeah. Those days are gone, of course. I can watch almost any sport at any time. I can watch games played 5, 10, 30, 40, 60 years ago. I can watch sports we don't even play in this country. (Cricket streaming? Why not?) I can immerse myself so heavily in broadcast sports that sometimes I'd actually rather not watch any of it at all. It's too difficult, and I still have $75 in Amazon gift cards I haven't spent yet. Plus, there's a great deal on a throwback jersey on eBay. Ironic? Maybe. I have no idea.
    The whole premise of this blog is that things were better in the '70s. Not everything, but lots of things. And one of those things was the Super Bowl. It was a football game back then, with blocking and tacking, and safeties who were allowed to do stuff, and QBs who took hits after runs. The pregame show was a manageable, say, two or three hours. (I really don't remember.) There were goofy promos for sitcoms and action shows; these were spoken by the announcers during breaks in the game, not trotted across the bottom of the screen in computerized animation.
    Not long ago, I watched Super Bowl 6 (VI, if you're scoring along in Rome), the 1972 edition the Cowboys won in Rice Stadium. Prior to the kickoff, and I mean just prior, there was some sort of Marine Corps drill team or something that had trouble getting off the field. The whole thing actually delayed the kickoff. Of the Super Bowl! It's on the DVD! But nobody freaked out. No NFL executives were fired, as far as I know. The announcers--Pat Summerall on color and I want to say maybe Tom Brookshire on play-by-play--took it in stride. It's cool. It's a football game, not a parade or a rock concert or a debutante ball. The Marines will clear off. And there they go. And now let's kick off. And by the way, Pat wants us to know that Don Rickles has a new sitcom and that CBS will be airing the Kemper Open again this spring. Be there.
    And then came halftime, which probably featured a marching band, which is probably what halftime at the Super Bowl--a football game, allegedly--should still feature. A few years later, though, the NFL would stumble upon Up With People, a group so roundly uncool by modern standards that it resides somewhere today with the corpse of Huey Lewis (has anybody's music done worse at standing the test of time?) and the Karate Kid (the original one, although I don't know that the others were particularly cool, either). As this article so helpfully points out, Up with People was full of gay drug users rather than hetero followers of Nancy Reagan. But who cares?
    Watch the video at the end of this post. Just watch it. Don't even watch it ironically. This is Up with People from the Cincinnati-San Francisco Super Bowl in 1982--right in the prime of my childhood, for once, just a handful of days after the stabbing pain of The Catch. (The wound has never totally healed.) You know what's funny about this performance? It's not horrible. It's not! The kids can dance. The music is peppy. The costumes are colorful. I think Phyllis George is involved. It's not "brought to you" by anybody. There's no dry ice. There are no lasers. I'm familiar with every song. Nobody who isn't performing dances on the field. The crowd loves it. Seriously loves it. And the whole thing lasts about 14 minutes and doesn't involve a stage roughly the size of the Sydney Opera House.
    Let the coaches do their pep talks, let the gay junkies sing and then get on with the game. It's no marching band, but it's solid. Very solid. It's simple and fun and non-commercial and take-or-leaveable and bearable and actually not obnoxious compared to what we get at the Super Bowl these days. It's a little goofy, a little ridiculous, but it's basic and pure and fun and simple. It's football before the NFL completely sold out. It's the Super Bowl back when the game was important and halftime was incidental. It's a one-hour pregame show. It's Irv Cross. And Pete Carroll, as far as we know, isn't involved. It's great, and I miss it, and I want it back. All of it.
  3. Boston Frog
    I should have been born in 1955, not in 1973. This much I know. I could have been in puberty during the sexual revolution of the '60s (but missed Vietnam...barely), and then I would have been around to understand every joke during the awesome television era of the '70s. And let's not even get into the music...or the fashions! Instead, I got stuck growing up in the '80s and early '90s, blah puke boring.
    That's why I spend so much time screwing around on YouTube looking for gems from pop culture past. Today, in the first (and still possibly only--we'll see) entry in this blog, I'm focusing on game shows, the high temple of double entendres and terrible one-liners during the Best Decade. (That's the '70s. The Best Decade. I'm doing that now, like the Greatest Generation or something.)
    No game show produced as many stunning moments of comedy as the legendary Match Game. Marked with a vintage in most years (Match Game '73, '74, '75, etc.), and also by the time of day when it ran (Match Game PM!), the Match Game is a living archive (full of dead people...) of the era when '50s showmanship and bluster met '60s bawdiness and '70s don't-give-a-crap to create a magical elixir of semi-rude entertainment.
    Most of the time, the comedy on the Match Game was implied and tongue-in-cheek rather than brute force. That was what made it so great. The fill-in-the-blank questions almost always had a hilariously dirty obvious answer, but what made the game exciting was the ability of the panel, legendary host Gene Rayburn, and sometimes even the contestants to dance around the obvious and go with the clever instead. In other words, these people knew what they wanted to say, but they didn't say it because they couldn't. They had to come up with something else. It took some thought. Behold: (If these embedded videos don't work, and they might not, please have the temerity to click through to YouTube. Thanks.)

    Not only could the panel not give the answers they really wanted to give, but at least one regular, the infamous Charles Nelson Reilly, couldn't be who he really was. He was gay--well, of course he was!--but he couldn't be openly gay in the mid-'70s, so he had to settle for being obviously, fabulously, flagrantly gay...but all under the guise of being straight-ish. Sort of. I guess. Here, he goes off the rails a bit, but the innuendo remains subtle-ish yet ever-present. And by the way, yes, Richard Dawson was the perfect man of the '70s:

    Of course, the Match Game didn't always deal in subtlety. Sometimes it just couldn't. But the beauty of the '70s was that pretty much nothing was off-limits unless somebody dropped one of George Carlin's seven deadly words or made a direct reference to a below-the-belt body part. So, if a girl on the show had big boobs, was it OK to talk about them? OK? It was encouraged! By the host! If this lady is still with us, she must have to carry a wheelbarrow in front of her at all times. I can't imagine:
    Then there were those episodes of the Match Game when the contestant and the panel said exactly what everybody was thinking...and got away with stuff that would lead to riots in the streets today. I'm not biased against anybody, but try to tell me this isn't funny. (Besides, Charles Nelson Reilly approves of it, so that makes it OK for the rest of us.) By the way, not to be a spoiler, but I love how the word "fairies" is considered a match for the contestant's answer in this question about Batman and Robin. Yes, this is gay stuff. Also, look at Dawson thinking 40 years ahead of his time:
    The beauty of celebrities in the '70s was that enough of them dated back to an era heavy in brutal stand-up and pressure-packed live TV that they could actually think on their feet, or at least while sitting in the studio. Many of today's fully automated TV "stars" (especially the idiots of reality TV) would have bombed 40 years ago because they can't think for themselves and wouldn't have been able to come up with witty lines on the spot. Or, they would have just said something overtly dirty for cheap laughs.
    That's why the '70s, that bridge between the confusion of the '60s and the sterility of the '80s, was so fantastic. That and the ability to openly discuss some random woman's boobs are what made spontaneous TV back then so effective in a way it couldn't be today. Remember, this was all network TV--no cable, no satellite, no HBO. Everybody saw it, kids and all, especially the daytime game shows. There was nothing else on TV. There were three channels, maybe four, in most cities. And when supply was low and demand was high, the quality of TV was often excellent.
    I'm going to end this entry with a bit of a twist, moving away from the Match Game and to that other, far better known, celebrity-quip game show, Hollywood Squares. Hollywood Squares had its own Charles Nelson Reilly in the person of Paul Lynde, who, in all honestly, was probably more popular and famous than CNR. Again, gay in every way except overtly, Lynde rocked the center square for years. The whole show, though--deserving of at least one other entry at some point--featured '70s wit at its very best. Even Florence Henderson, Mrs. Brady, got into the mildly bawdy review (as promised in the title of this entry). By the way, pay attention at 2:57 for a quintessential '70s experience: (I haven't been able to embed this video, but it's worth a click.)
    That's it for now. If I'm ever to type while messing around on YouTube again, I'll be back. In the meantime, love, peace and soul (there's an entry there, too).
  4. Boston Frog
    When I was maybe 10 years old, my parents and I were having a family party of some sort at our house. Cousins were there, along with various aunts and uncles and what not. This was my mom's faux-sophisticate side of the family, so we were all on our best behavior. Then the doorbell rang. I answered it, and there stood my friend, Tony, asking if I could hang out with him for a bit. I desperately wanted a break from the suffocation of family, so I told him sure...but there was one problem. Tony wasn't wearing a shirt.
    He just walked to my house shirtless and expected to hang out thusly for as long as he was there. My mother, ever the diplomat, agreed to let Tony in if he put on one of my shirts. So, he did. Unfortunately, she gave him a shirt that some of my visiting cousins had passed to me as a hand-me-down. It was very identifiable ("Athens, Texas: Black-Eyed Pea Capital of the World") and unmistakable as a shirt only I would have. This led, of course, to much confusion and many questions from the extended family: Did Tony have a shirt just like mine? Did I give my shirt to him? Was something wrong with the shirt? Did I not appreciate the shirt? Was I an ungrateful little brat? (Actually, I loved that shirt.) Surely, surely, Boston Frog wouldn't have a friend who showed up to his house shirtless and had to wear one of his shirts. Would he? Oh, our Baptist sensibilities...
    If there's one thing I remember about the few years of the '70s I was fortunate enough to spend outside the womb (from December '73 on...), it's half-naked men. Dudes, particularly guys in their twenties, just did not wear shirts when I was a young kid. I thought nothing of this, of course. It was normal. The creepy family down the street was full of teenage guys who had mullets and Firebirds and drove everywhere shirtless, occasionally sticking their heads of of the Firebirds to whoop "yeeeeeee-haaaaaaaawww" as they pounded down another Coors at 90 miles an hour. (Yes, they were awesome, and only one or two ended up in jail.)
    But it wasn't the shirtlessness that made them creepy. At the grocery store, around town, in cars, at the post office, guys' nipples and budding chest hair were constantly visible. (Of course, given that this was in the era before Americans got fat, their ribs usually showed, too.) I even remember kids wearing those loose mesh half-shirts to church and trying to wear them to school (where they weren't allowed--and, yes, I went to a public school.) What that was or when that changed, I'm not really sure. But it happened. It is part of me now. (For the record, I always wore a shirt, and I still do--even when I swim. Just saying.)
    There are a couple of great little examples of the shirtless '70s in DFW floating around on YouTube. The first is so awesome it almost defies words. It's news footage from a ticket line for the Rolling Stones' 1978 concert in Dallas. This is a bygone Texas, a place I remember but likely will never see again. There are guys drinking beer in the parking lot of what appears to be a bank, where, for some reason, the concert tickets are on sale. There are girls in halter tops (a very, very nice memory from my childhood I much prefer to half-naked dudes). There are tough-talking cops semi-wailing on some (shirtless) dude. There's surely tons of weed, although it's not pictured. There's a guy crashing through a plate-glass window, and then there are people just casually stepping through the windows through which the (shirtless, naturally) gentleman just crashed. There's a poor bank manager who looks as though he just stepped onto the streets of Beirut after the embassy bombing.
    Let me just reiterate: There are drunken, likely stoned dudes wearing no shirts and waiting in line to buy Stones tickets at a bank. They're shirtless at a bank. Can you even begin to imagine that now? (Apparently, too, the concert was just a few days away. No six-month advance sales back then, I guess.) Who killed this kind of awesome in Texas? Why did it go away? Was it the megachurches? Was it a sudden rash of modesty? Did these guys all wrap their cars around telephone polls while slamming Coors and yelling yee-haw and simply die off as a breed? Why won't this ever come back?
    Anyway, check it out, from Channel 4, 35 years ago (credit to my buddy, Eric, for emailing this to me). Yes, you'll have to click on the link because I couldn't figure out how to embed this one.
    But it wasn't just blue-collar gentlemen who eschewed the shackles of top-torso textiles in the '70s. Your local sports guy, Jim Brinson, also felt the need to bust out of his clothing prison. Spectacular for many reasons other than Brinson's chest hair (the blue-movie 'stache likely the greatest among them), the Channel 5 promo below illustrates to some extent the stages of '70s shirtlessness. Skip past the first 30 seconds of the spot, which features the great Chip Moody, RIP, and you'll see what surely must be a beer commercial. Sweaty guys, sports, a certain undertone of anger... It's going to be Miller Time pretty soon, right? No! It's Brinson time, baby!
    Because, you see, Jim Brinson is not just a sports guy. He's a jock and a lady killer, as we'll see. As these 30 seconds tick away, Brinson's desire to bust out his pecks steadily grows. The shirt opens wider. The chest hair puffs out more abundantly. The medallion at least seems to dangle lower. Oh, man, this shirt is chafing him big time! Then, finally, in a moment of highly unlikely glory, bare-chested Jim goes in for a layup on the basketball court. (Not a dunk, of course...there was some element of realism here.) Whoooo! Freedom! Shoulders exposed to the air! Yeeeaahhh! Now, are you all imagining, say, Dale Hansen or Newy Scruggs without his shirt on? Yeah, that's pretty much what this was, except Mr. Brinson, to his credit, was '70s lean. (Seriously, where were the fat people back then?)
    Of course, with a lip caterpillar like Jimmy's, the ladies are sure to fall victim to his masculine charms. in a moment that would literally cause Twitter to explode and Deadspin to collapse today, Local Sports Guy Jim loses an arm-wrestling content (what a man!) because he decides to check out a passing waitress's butt. Ooooh, baby! Jimmy's gonna wrestle some of that tonight! Just wait until he pops that shirt off. She's melt like butter. Or maybe not. After all, he won't be alone. This is the '70s, so nobody is fully dressed.
    Skip to about 30 seconds in. The Chip Moody thing actually makes me a little sad.

    Give it all you've got, Jimmy. All you've got.
  5. Boston Frog
    Monty Python might very well have never reached our shores had it not been for local television in Dallas-Fort Worth. Back in the mid-'70s, some executive at Channel 13 (the PBS channel, of course, so executive is likely a very strong word here) dug some tape out of an old bin of castaway shows. On it was some weird stuff from some oddball Brits. KERA had already established itself as the first TV station in the US to broadcast British comedy (true), but this was a little different, a little non-traditional. "Are You Being Served?" it was not. Could Channel 13 actually put this stuff on TV, this communist hippie PBS "executive" wondered? Eh, why not? Nobody's watching, anyway. What could it hurt?
    Well, it didn't hurt anything. In fact, it rapidly established the Pythons, who had been doing their bit in Britain for a while by that point, as cult stars in the US. So, on the way back from a premiere of Monty Python and the Holy Grail in Los Angeles (a movie for which there was not yet a US distributor at the time), the Pythons made one of there very first public appearances in Dallas, in the studio of KERA, or possibly in some rec room at a junior high school. It's hard to tell. A very nervous man with an impressive beard interviews the group (minus John Cleese). The Pythons took questions from the audience, some of which (Who is Monty Python?) we'll have to forgive for their naivete. It was 1975, after all, and there was nothing but public TV sharing Monty Python with the United States. Remember, there was no Wikipedia, no Twitter, not even cable in any serious way. These were the good old days.
    As some whiny little guy from modern public radio will explain in the introduction to the video, a random engineer at Channel 13 kept this footage, even though the end of it is cut off and lost forever. Unearthed about seven years ago, this tape was slapped on YouTube and viewed for the first time since 1975, and for the first time, presumably, outside of Dallas-Fort Worth. Since it only has about 160,000 views, though, chances are it might be new to you, as it was to me. Also, in case you miss the subtle allusion to it at the outset of the tape, this interview was part of Public Television's Festival '75. Pay close attention.
    The beauty of this 10 or so minutes of footage doesn't just revolve around the Pythons themselves, although they're obviously awesome. As if they were at an elementary school assembly, the crowd, presumably made up of regular local folks, is sitting on the floor. KERA seems to have sprung for some folding chairs or something for the Pythons--which explains why there's a pledge drive going on (of course) during the interview, phones ringing off their little '70s-yellow bases. Watch out for a few other things, too. The guy asking a question at about the 10:40 mark just has to be wicked stoned. The accents, for some reason, seem really strong, much stronger than today's Texas drawl. And there's also a stuffed armadillo.
    From 1975 (and Festival '75!), it's Monty Python in Dallas:

    And now to the comedy. Dear sweet Lord in heaven, where do we even start with this? It defies words. Evidently, this promo bit from Channel 8 from 1980 never aired. WFAA executives showed it to advertising agencies and other insider-types only. Thank God for that. The beginning of this clip likely signaled the death of the true '70s (although it was late 1980 by the time this, uh, happened) because if disco had ever been cool, what these people at the beginning of this video did to it rendered it uncool for eternity, or at lest until Generation X got a hold of it ironically in the '90s.
    But the dancing doesn't stop there. Go about 45 seconds in, and Channel 8 people are dancing, more or less. Yes, people who work there, apparently. Some of them are on-air people; Troy Dungan really does appear to be dancing with the little red and blue arrows he would have used to show warm and cold fronts back then. In fact, everybody seems to be interpretatively dancing something related to his or her job at the station. There's reel-to-reel tape, a huge channel 8 logo and other '70s TV stuff.
    Things slow down for a little bit after that, aside from the male host of PM Magazine scratching himself or adjusting his tube sock or something in the show's promo. Keep going, though. Get to about the 3:20 mark. That's when stuff gets real. It's time to pimp Channel 8 news, with the news team you can trust...to do weird stuff in this video. Seriously, behind a voice-over talking about all the awards the station has won, there are reporters tripping over themselves, anchors screwing around, what appears to be Tracy Rowlett sneaking up behind some woman reporter and kissing her...and then...and then... Out of nowhere, Verne Lundquist just gets up, plaid sport jacket and all, and gives Tracy a huge hug. I mean a manly bear grip that should have been way more awkward than it was. This goes on for several seconds.
    All of this comes after Channel 8 has run some smack about the other newscasts in town, actually showing clips from them while playing a song (maybe by Anne Murray?) that semi-subtly refers to how much they suck. Yeah, suck on it, 4 and 5! Where's your video of reporters blowing kisses to the camera, sexy dancing, committing what must have been sexual harassment and engaging in gentleman-on-gentleman contact? News 8 is number one, baby! Whoooo! Get on back over here, Tracy!
    From 1980, Channel 8's likely chemically influenced in-house promo:

    Better times. Better times.
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