Sunday, July 1, 2018

two for the show

I think I have made it quite clear how much I love television. I talk about it. I write about it. I draw characters from it and, of course, I watch it. A lot of it. I will happily admit — I watch a lot of crap. But I don't care. That's what makes television television! 

Some of my favorite networks are those that have recently popped up offering reruns of classic programs that were popular during my youth. My cable provider carries MeTV, Antenna TV, Decades, Heroes & Icons and, of course, TV Land, the original TV revival network, although it has begun to show newer series in addition to a move towards original programming. I love watching the shows on these networks. Aside from Jeopardy! and DVR-ed episodes of The Price is Right, I don't watch too much else. I find that after a day at work, I don't want to concentrate on a complicated plot. I want to watch something familiar and comforting, sort of like the TV equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of tomato soup.

The Good Morning, World gang
Recently, Antenna TV revamped their schedule, as they are prone to do every so often. They shuffled around the broadcast times for some shows while removing others completely from their schedule. They also added some shows which is always exciting, especially if it's one that hasn't surfaced in years. In January 2017, Antenna TV brought back a show called Good Morning, World — a show that, despite my vast knowledge of TV trivia, I was not familiar with. I'll even go one step further. I never heard of it. Good Morning, World was the creation of Bill Persky and Sam Denoff, a pair of writers who previously piled their trade supplying jokes to a Los Angeles drive-time radio DJ. They graduated to become joke writers for The Steve Allen Show, parlaying that gig to land a coveted spot alongside the great Carl Reiner writing episodes of the beloved Dick Van Dyke Show. The year after The Dick Van Dyke Show left the airwaves, the pair developed a sitcom about a budding actress in New York City. The show, That Girl, was a break-out role for the series star, young Marlo Thomas. Based on the instant popularity of That Girl, Persky and Denoff created another show, this one based on their experiences on morning radio. The result was the one-season wonder Good Morning, World. Originally developed as a vehicle for comedian Ronnie Schell, the popular co-star of the inexplicably hit military sitcom Gomer Pyle, USMC. Schell was wooed away from the consistently high-rated series with the promise of his own show under guidance from the creative force behind The Dick Van Dyke Show. Recruited as Schell's co-star was an unremarkable character actor Joby Baker, a likable enough guy who was obviously being groomed in the Dick Van Dyke mold — a tall order that poor Baker was not prepared for. The cast was rounded out with Julie Parrish as Baker's typical TV sitcom wife, one trick pony Billy DeWolfe as the stuffy, perpetually-annoyed station manager, doing his best "Billy DeWolfe" shtick and a pre-Laugh-in Goldie Hawn at her ditsy finest as Schell's sort-of love interest.

The show, of which I have watched many, many episodes, is not very good. Although it was filmed live in front of a studio audience, the jokes were supplemented by a recorded laugh track. Despite the welcome addition of numerous big-name guest stars (including late '60s heavyweights like Andy Griffith, Jerry Van Dyke, Lynda Day George, Herb Edelman and countless others), the jokes were lame, the situations were predictable and he acting was just plain bad. It's a wonder that Goldie Hawn had a career after this dud. Good Morning, World, which tried desperately to be the Dick Van Dyke Show, lasted for twenty-six episodes before CBS realized it wasn't living up to expectations. Ronnie Schell returned to Gomer Pyle, USMC for its final season. Joby Baker, who had difficulty memorizing lines of dialogue, wound down his acting career and became a painter and illustrator. Julie Parrish took small roles in films and television, but struggled with health issues for a large portion of her life. Billy DeWolfe continued to play the same signature uptight character in numerous films and series until his death in 1974. Good Morning, World remained a footnote to the careers of all involved. And rightly so.

Bridget + Bernie = Love
Another show — this one I do remember — was run as a weekend marathon on Decades. The show, Bridget Loves Bernie, which ran for a single season on CBS, concerned the marriage of a young couple. The couple are Bridget Fitzgerald, an Irish Catholic, and Bernie Steinberg, who is Jewish. They elope, much to the chagrin of their overly-stereotypical, cartoonish parents. Bridget's parents (A hopelessly gentile David Doyle and Audra Linley) are portrayed as one-dimensional, narrow-minded, ridiculously wealthy high-society folks, complete with butler and a Saks Fifth Avenue obsession. The Steinbergs (an overly Jewish Harold J. Stone and Bibi Osterwald) are the owners of a New York delicatessen along with veteran Jewish character actor Ned Glass as wise and understanding "Uncle Moe." Bridget has a brother who is, of course, a priest. Bill Elliott as "Otis," "Bernie's" friend, a hip African-American "voice of reason" that was a part of every predominately white 70s sitcom, rounds out the cast.

The Fitzgeralds and the Steinbergs
I watched Bridget Loves Bernie in its initial run in the 1972-73 television season. I was eleven years old and I received my social lessons from my bigoted father and my liberal mother. My parents both loved the popular sitcom All in the Family for different reasons. My mother "got the joke" and my father thought he was watching a documentary. Every episode of Bridget Loves Bernie focused on some sort of religious conflict. And every conflict was addressed in the most outrageous and racist manner. Every single religion cliche was dragged out and blatantly splayed across every scene. The Catholic family assumed that everyone was Catholic, interacting with the Jewish family as though they were aliens and speaking to them in condescending tones. The Jewish family dismissed all things Catholic as "unheard of" while constantly making "delicatessen-related" analogies for every situation. When I was a kid, I didn't really get it. My father laughed at the "Jewish" jokes, frowned at the "Catholic" ones and quietly ogled the young Meredith Baxter, who played "Bridget." My mother was indifferent but enjoyed watching the dark good looks of co-lead David Birney. The show was very popular, ranking in an impressive 5th place among shows in the '72-'73 television season. However, CBS was bombarded with complaints from both Jewish and Catholic groups expressing outrage over how situations were presented and handled. Jewish organizations led the way, though, citing the show as a "flagrant insult to Jews." Meredith Baxter told of bomb threats called in to the studio during tapings. Producer Ralph Riskin was physically threatened by the Jewish Defense League's notorious Robert Manning. CBS, not wanting to deal with the negativity and the controversy any longer, pulled the plug on Bridget Loves Bernie in March 1973. I watched nearly every episode of Bridget Loves Bernie during the Decades "binge-watching" weekend — because I will admittedly watch almost anything. I had a much different reaction from when I was eleven. This time around, I cringed.

But it was on television, so, of course I watched. Because that's what I do. I watch. 

And learn.

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