Carol Burnett: TV humor today sounds like it was “written by teenage boys in a locker room”

Can’t argue with anything Carol and Tim say here:

First, let me give credit to Piers Morgan, of whom I’m usually highly critical. He conducted a solid interview, and let his guests respond without arguing with them, in and of itself an exceedingly rare occurrence.

But the primary takeaway I had after watching the entire interview was how far modern television has fallen from my youth. As a member of the generation which grew up watching Dick Van Dyke, Carol Burnett, Bob Newhart, et al on TV with my entire family, those shows not only were clever then, they are still clever now.

CarolBurnett-DickVanDyke-BobNewhart 444

They hold up over time because their humor wasn’t dependent on being crude, or offensive, or “edgy”. It was just… funny.

Here is perhaps one of the most well-known examples from Carol’s show (which we’re ‘borrowing’ from our buddy ThatMrGGuy‘s blog):

The Gold Standard of situation comedies is and always will be The Dick Van Dyke Show. That series is still being mined for plot lines and comedy bits by sitcom writers today, and for good reason: TDVDS made people laugh, young and old alike, in a way that no show has done since.

Every single episode was brilliant, but my personal favorite is from Season 2, when Rob and Laura (Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore) inadvertently listen to a private conversation that their neighbors/best friends Millie and Jerry are having at their house via an intercom system, and hear their friends make disparaging remarks about them. Feeling severely betrayed and hurt, their feelings come out in a game of ‘Charades’ at a dinner party that same night:

Hey, I’m no fancy critic, but I DO know what’s funny.  And any time I can show something to my 12- and 14-year-old sons that’s in BLACK-&-WHITE, and they not only laugh but ask to see more, …THAT’S funny.

Bugs Bunny - barber of Seville 444Shows when we were younger even threw in some culture when you least expected it, with occasional nods to opera or Shakespeare (as seen on Gilligan’s Island with “Hamlet, Star Trek with ‘The Conscience of the King, or Bugs Bunny with the “Rabbit of Seville).

Heck, forty years ago, children even learned about American History with ‘Schoolhouse Rock’. To this day, I can still recite the Preamble of The Constitution, …as long as I’m allowed to sing it.

Seriously, when’s the last time you could say that about a show today?

The only recent comedy series of merit to rise above the sub-mediocrity of most television today might be ‘The Simpsons‘, which was infused with wit and used classic cultural references (including Shakespeareas a plot device numerous times. There’s no question that, at least for the first ten years or so, it was extremely intelligently written.

And yet, it also suffered from being needlessly hostile to those of religious faith (usually Christians), portraying them as overly pious and just kinda weird, although there ARE those who’d disagree with me on that point.

But even if I give a nod to ‘The Simpsons’, it’s been around since 1989. If that’s the best modern television can offer, it means we’ve gone more than a generation without anything even arguably good.

HOmer facepalm

There’s a reason I dropped my cable subscription many years ago: outside of sports, there’s virtually nothing on today worth watching. If that makes me some sort of old fuddy-duddy, so be it. But I’ll pit any one of several dozen shows from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s against anything that’s been on in the past decade or more.

Who knows? Eventually, we may yet see a return to intelligent comedy writing, with shows that no longer condescend to their audience by going for the cheap laugh. TV is a business, of course, and economics will likely determine TV’s next evolution. Which means that there’s still some hope, slim though it may appear.

In the meantime, I’ll happily be watching re-runs on DVD. Let me know when it’s safe to tune-in again, ‘kay?

20 responses to “Carol Burnett: TV humor today sounds like it was “written by teenage boys in a locker room”

  1. *LOVE* 😀

    We have FREE digital antenna TV… and I watch these fantastic shows mentioned. Nothing is better than being able to sit down in front of the ‘boob tube’ (which of course, is no longer a ‘tube’) after a long day, and not being abused, attacked, offended and disgusted… but rather, I get to enjoy pure, honest and funny entertainment!

    Great entry JTR… MERRY CHRISTMAS! 😀

    • Thanks, Teach!!
      And yes, we also have a digital antenna. I get most of my feeds through a rather extensive variety of YouTube accounts. Saves me time, and I don’t have all those channels from Cable that I don’t want in the house in the first place.

  2. There WAS a time when shows were written and produced for pure entertainment, be it a comedy, a mystery, or an action based show. My gripe with today’s programming is that far too much of it is written to push agendas, mostly Liberal agendas, and they veil it behind some show. Heck, sometimes it’s not even veiled. They seem to support the moral decay of our society, and LIVE to bash Christians and Conservatives.

    • Agreed, Pgh. That’s why I believe pure economics will eventually dictate the change. There are too many options coming around, and more are popping up almost daily.
      Some day (sooner rather than later), the network ‘suits’ won’t be able to afford to program according to their liberal bias. Won’t be tomorrow, but it won’t take 20 years, either.

      It’s coming…

  3. Makes me miss the old shows.

  4. Well, we had Howdy Doody and Captain Video as kids. I love Lucy: the Honeymooners, many variety shows like Jack Benny, oh, and Bewitched when I was an older teen. Good shows. Funny. Nothing embarrassing. Very good post, JTR.

    I’ve thought frequently how fast we’ve plummetted into the vulgar, overly sexual and crude. Sad,

    • ‘Bewitched’ was another favorite, and we own that whole series, as well.

      The existing catalog of great family-friendly shows is impressive, and very affordable. Way better than putting up with commercials I don’t want to see, for shows I don’t like all that much.

      Thanks, tannngl!!

  5. It seems to me that the logical successors to those clever TV shows are the new web-based series being produced (often on a shoestring) and seen on YouTube, in short installments of 5 to 8 minutes. For literature buffs, check out The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, Emma Approved and The Autobiography of Jane Eyre. If you’re a geeky comic book fan, try The Sting Chronicles, a pastiche on such heroes as Spiderman. These shows are well-written and well-acted, and they are reaching a new, young audience who are eating them up–with no sex, little bad language and really clever plot development, especially since all the series that I’ve noted above are vlog-based. There are also many web-based series which are filmed in a more traditional TV-like format. Go find and support them! I don’t think that our culture is going to see anyone bring back the old sit-com format…it’s too expensive. Thanks for all the memories, bro! We did grow up in the Golden Age!

  6. My favorite show that is running today is Portlandia. I grew up in the earnest 80’s and ironic 90’s, so I feel like I have a foot in both sides of the TV comedy transition. Portlandia is such a gem because week after week it skewers the hipsters, foodies, ultrafeminists, environmentalists, and otherwise neurotic progressives that mark the epitome of gen X and Y culture. For me, it’s laugh-at and laugh-with comedy.

    • Thanks for the suggestion; I’ll have to check it out on Hulu, Duck.
      Never even heard of it, …which isn’t all that surprising for me, quite honestly.

      But I will give it a spin online. Heck, if it’s decent (and especially if I can show it to my sons), I’ll just buy the DVD.

      • Oh, I forgot to mention it’s a little crude sometimes. But that’s par for the course these days, it would seem.

        • I’m only surprised when that element is NOT present, Duck. But that’s why I’ll check it out on Hulu first.

          There’s plenty of stuff for my wife and I to watch, if we chose to. But that’s not my challenge: there’s precious little for us to watch as a family, that everyone can enjoy and appreciate.

          Burnett, Van Dyke, Newhart, etc.,… all made their shows work on two levels. You didn’t have to hide the kids, even though it was geared to adults.
          I seriously miss that today.

  7. Thanks for the link. Great article.

  8. Watching ” Born Yesterday” with William Holden and Judy Holliday.

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