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.
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.
Shows 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 Shakespeare) as 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.
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?