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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
May 17, 2009

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Idol, Castle, Lie to Me, and "Lost TV"

I'm writing this on Tuesday night. We just finished watching the American Idol final competition between Adam Lambert and Kris Allen.

The moment it ended, we started to search for the phones so we could vote -- until we realized that none of us actually wanted to vote. We knew that both of these singers would have wonderful careers (along with the rest of the top six). We didn't actually care who'd win.

Which is a weird attitude, at the end of the best season of Idol ever -- but for us, Idol this year is no longer a competition. Competition is meaningless in this context. We will be watching Wednesday night's final results show solely because it will be a terrific variety show (if last year's final was any indication). And that's a better reason to watch a show than a mere contest.

A few things about Idol need to change next year. For one thing, Kara DioGuardi has worn out her welcome.

Her credentials as a songwriter are secure -- and she co-wrote the best final song ever (though the competition there isn't very keen).

But after being cute and smart and funny early on, she forgot her role as new kid at the table.

She became the rudest person there, booing and trying to shout down Simon Cowell almost every time he spoke. Paula Abdul can get away with a little of that because she and Cowell have a long history of being rude to each other (though I'm tired of both of them doing it, too).

But DioGuardi had no such history, and she did it way too much. I kept wanting to pull her aside and say, "Let the man talk."

Instead, she got even more flamboyant in her way-out-of-line "teasing" of Simon, getting out of her chair to go over and bother him. Why was that out of line? Because she was sitting next to Randy, and attempted no such teasing relationship with him.

We all knew that when she did those things, she was following the camera. Simon Cowell is the star of the judges; therefore she played up to him by being loudly and openly rude to him.

Nobody likes a performer who is so hungry for the camera that she steals time from someone else.

(Which, by the way, is why I despised Simon Cowell for painting a mustache on Paula Abdul's face one night, which distracted completely from the time that belonged to the contestant being judged. It was unfair to that contestant.)

Even more annoying than Kara's suck-up-to-the-camera antics, though, was her shameless sucking up to Adam Lambert. Yes, he's talented. But DioGuardi was supposed to be a judge. Paula Abdul and Randy and, yes, even Simon Cowell all make at least an effort to be fair.

But when DioGuardi called Adam Lambert a "rock god," I was disgusted. She could have been replaced at that table by any starry-eyed fan girl. In fact, I know several who are actually more level-headed judges than she was.

I also despised DioGuardi for pulling rank when Cowell disagreed with her. When she demanded to know whether he had ever performed, and then said (or perhaps just implied) in a prissy, snotty way, "Well I have" -- that was out of line.

Cowell isn't there as a judge because he can sing -- that's what the mentors are for. Cowell is there because he's a successful A&R man, a good producer. Randy Jackson has performed, but he's there because he's a hands-on producer who has worked with the top names in the industry.

DioGuardi isn't there because she performs, either -- have you ever heard a record of hers? Gone to one of her many sold-out concerts? I didn't think so. DioGuardi is there as a songwriter. As a performer, her credentials are little better than mine.

There is a performing star among the judges -- and that's Paula Abdul. Her heyday may have passed, but she still knows what she knew back when her records filled the airwaves. For Kara to tout her performing credits while sitting next to Paula Abdul, a genuine star, was just pathetic.

Next year, let's go back to three judges.

Or, heck, have me come on as the fourth. My sci-fi writing credentials are way stronger in my field than Kara DioGuardi's songwriting credentials are in hers, and I've also written songs and performed on stage, and believe me, as a judge I could have said a lot more intelligent and entertaining things than she did, every time.

But then, most of us could.

What about that last competitive performance? For me, Kris Allen nailed his first two songs, and for the third one he found a much more contemporary, alt-rock spin on it.

Adam Lambert sang that last song absolutely straight -- which of course thrilled Kara, since he did almost nothing with it that wasn't on the sheet music. And his second song, beginning as it did with one of his trademark howls, just made me tired.

That alleycat thing was cool when he did it the first few times. But it gets old faster than I expected, mostly because it's not actually musical. It's what you do (if you can do it at all) instead of projecting real emotion. What kills me is that Lambert knows this -- he's an actor as well as a singer. But he's not stupid. It's the yowl that gets the most attention.

Except from me. Because it was that first song, "Mad World," where Adam Lambert was a great singer. It wasn't just familiar tricks. It was an inventive vocal response to a great song that has never been performed better.

Kris Allen, though, nailed both his first two songs. I thought his "Ain't No Sunshine" was perfect.

And while Simon Cowell (who is, in fact, musically illiterate in the traditional sense, though not in the contemporary promotional one) thought there was nothing fresh or new about Allen's "What's Going On," in fact there were fascinatingly original harmonies ... and Allen's guitar wasn't just a dummy, he was playing the dissonant chords and singing against them at the same time.

What I found most hilarious, though, was when Cowell criticized Lambert's "Mad World" because it was -- get this -- too "musical theatre."

That's always been an amazingly dumb thing for Cowell to say. Hasn't he ever seen Madonna perform? What about Steven Tyler or Mick Jagger? Or Billy Joel or Elton John? Does he think they're just spontaneously "feeling" the music that way? They're all musical comedy performers, creating a character and then playing it throughout the concert or video.

In fact, that's been Adam Lambert's greatest strength. He came to this show armed, not just with a magnificently trained voice, but also with years of experience playing characters -- flamboyantly but with excellently faked sincerity. That's not a slam, either, that's just what acting is: faked sincerity. Lambert already knew how to play an audience like a fiddle.

Lambert was absolutely comfortable performing -- only Ryan Seacrest rivals him for control-of-stage. But from there they diverge. Seacrest is the consummate host: totally relaxed, but always catching the attention and then pitching it on to the person he's interviewing or introducing. Someday he may even make a decent talk show host, it he actually knows anything (American Idol is not the place to find that out).

But Lambert catches attention and then hangs on to it, drawing us in, never letting go, not for a second.

Kris Allen is every bit as musically savvy as Lambert, and knows his own voice and how to work a song. He's a great performer, too, in the music-centered tradition of a James Taylor or Bruce Springsteen. Not bad company to be in, I think.

But musical theatre, which Cowell so despises, has given Adam Lambert the tools to blow anyone and everyone off the stage. To his credit, he has not used those tools unfairly. He never steals from anyone. But when the lights and cameras are his, he owns them -- owns us -- in a way that Allen simply does not fathom. Few musicians really do.

As for Simon Fuller's "socially conscious" song choices -- at least he didn't make either of them sing "We Are the Children."

By the time you read this, you'll know who won. Whoever it is, I'm happy. Because it doesn't matter. The real miracle is that this year, the top six contestants are all star quality performers, and because of their American Idol contracts, they are trapped into spending the summer touring America doing a glee club show! Hee-haw, the irony!

*

Tonight, after Idol, they showed the pilot for a musical tv series that will officially debut next fall. It's called Glee, and it's obviously High School Musical as a series. Or maybe it's Revenge of the Nerds as a musical ...

And yet, despite the obviousness and unbelievability of the storyline (come on, there's not a football team in America so dumb that they'd lock the crippled kid in the wheelchair in a portable john and then knock it over and roll it!), the performances -- both as actors and singers -- are so good that the show is a slam dunk. We're going to be watching it -- even as we roll our eyes at the writing.

(Worst believability problem: All the kids are so talented that there's no way we believe they actually need the coach who's supposedly going to shape them into star performers. Yeah, right.)

*

Series come and series go. We mourned this season because Life was not picked up for another season. Damien Lewis was brilliant in the role of Charlie Crews, a police detective who is back on the force after serving ten years of hard time for a crime he didn't commit.

In the first season, Lewis's character was genuinely enigmatic. We could feel the pain in him; his commitment to zen as the thing that got him through his imprisonment seemed real, and there was an almost (but not quite) magical connection between him and the people whose murders he was trying to solve.

This year, it's as if the network executives got to the producers. "If you want to stay on the air, you've got to get rid of all this mysterious zen stuff. It's too weird for mainstream America. We need this show to be cuter and funnier. And lots more sexual tension!"

Even with that deeply wrong change of tone, the writers managed to make every episode excellent -- and the actors brought it off. What an ensemble of people doing the best work of their lives!

But the execs (if my guess is right) were wrong. Oh, it might be true that America doesn't get the weird zen stuff from the first season. But the fact that the show was just canceled suggests that the "fix" was no better than the original!

I suspect that the writers got wind of the upcoming cancellation before they wrote the final episode because, incredibly enough, they managed to wrap up an awful lot of storylines. So much had been dangling through both seasons, and yet they gave us a surprisingly clean break. We won't be in perpetual agony about who got our hero into jail.

But I'll miss spending time with these people -- the characters, the extraordinarily gifted actors, and these smart, smart writers.

Life was the series that went. This season we've also had some stunning debuts. I've written about The Mentalist before -- it's a strong hit and likely to endure for a long time. I've also written about Fringe; I thought the writing was dumb and the characters uninteresting. It, too, seems to be a hit.

While the Life execs were telling their writers to cuten it up and get rid of the weirdness, Fringe, The Mentalist, Medium, Burn Notice, and a couple of other shows are proving that this is the era (in television, "eras" last about three years) of the weirdly brilliant hero.

Castle is a pretty good vehicle for Nathan Fillon, formerly of Firefly. He's a mystery writer who has lived a shallow life, has a weird mother and a great daughter, and now has got himself attached to a female police detective whom he is turning into a cool new sleuth in his latest novel.

The creator of this series, Andrew A. Marlowe, wrote Air Force One, End of Days, and Hollow Man. The guy knows how to do thrillers. But here he has turned his hand to comedy, and the result is a lot of humor that depends on every ounce of Nathan Fillon's talent to make bearable.

The cast of characters is just too thin. Oh, there are bodies playing named parts, but the writers are giving them nothing. Poor Stana Katic, as Kate Beckett, the cop Castle is assigned to, gets to play "annoyed girl" -- not really a good use of her talents -- and the other cops are just faces.

This is the fault of writers, not actors. The actors don't get to make up their own lines.

Contrast this with the way the writers of The Mentalist have developed their equally exasperated female detective, played by Robin Tunney, into somebody real and smart and interesting -- and went on to turn every single one of the other cops into intriguing characters who give a great cast of actors a chance to show their chops.

Tim Kang as Kimball Cho is a brilliant deadpan comic actor. Owain Yeoman plays a big goofy well-meaning guy that we really care about. Amanda Righetti has made her character not only sexy (required) but smart and deep (a bonus).

In other words, the whole burden of carrying this show is not on Simon Baker's shoulders as the title character. He is superb in the part, which absolutely requires a character with brilliant charisma -- something that an actor without charisma cannot pretend to have.

But he is not alone. The rest of the show comes up to his level.

In a way, Castle reminds me of Murder She Wrote, trying to coast on charm alone -- well, why not? It worked for Angela Lansbury and Nathan Fillan seems to be carrying it off as well.

But The Mentalist is more like NYPD Blue -- an ensemble with stars, scripts that alternate light and dark within the same scene. And neither one is a bad thing. We're watching them both. But our expectations of Castle are ... well, lower.

Meanwhile, Medium continues to be one of the best shows ever, with a perfect mix of intriguing mysteries, great ensemble work, and domestic storylines that are every bit as important as the official copwork.

In a way, one can look at The Mentalist as a sort of "anti-Medium" -- not only does Patrick Jane, the afore-mentioned mentalist, not have any psychic powers, he also does not have a family, since they were all murdered. The problem is that because they're gone, they have no emotional power for us except in the abstract, where the Dubois family in Medium bring each other to such vibrant life that even when they're not in danger, we care about them.

I don't believe in mediums or spiritualists or whatever -- I'm on Patrick Janes's side of this one. But as a fictional TV series, Medium is the best thing out there.

With one possible exception: the Hill Street Blues of today's "supersleuth" shows: Lie to Me.

Another brilliant ensemble. Another quirkily brilliant, inwardly tortured hero. A family, a past that matters. But it manages to force its way into contention with Medium and The Mentalist for the title of "best of the lot."

The premise is that Dr. Cal Lightman (played by one of the finest actors of our time, Tim Roth) runs a consulting firm that steps into difficult situations and helps clients determine who is telling the truth, or what, under all the lies, the truth might be.

Detective work, right? Only where Sherlock Holmes looked for physical evidence, Lightman and his crew talk to people -- and sometimes deceive them -- in order to find clues in their facial expressions and body languages that reveal things that these people would rather keep secret.

Unlike Medium, which gives its heroine fantasy powers, or The Mentalist, which rarely explains how the hero knows who is and isn't lying, Lie to Me works on the cutting edge of science, using real (or at least plausible) explanations of how the characters learn what they learn by watching people.

It is fascinating to watch them film an actor playing a character who is unconsciously giving away some kind of emotion or other information, then rerun the films, point out the clues ... after which, quite often, as the show goes to commercial they show us examples of the exact same expression or gesture in a picture or clip of a public figure in the real world.

Here is what amazes me most: The guest actors have to be trained to give precisely the gesture or expression required for the scene. And they do it.

Acting is hard, and most American actors rely on some combination of instinct, dumb luck, and a bastardized version of a Stanislavsky-ish "method." None of these actually work, but the result is that good American actors tend not to know what they're actually doing. They do it, mind you, but they can rarely explain it.

(English actors, on the other hand, are rigorously trained in technique -- and since Tim Roth comes out of that tradition, one is never in doubt that he knows exactly what he is doing.)

When they come to do a guest shot on Lie to Me, they have to set aside their American "I've got to get in the mood" "you mean I can't coast on my personality?" attitudes and actually learn to do specific physical things at exactly the right moment.

My guess? The good ones are relieved -- maybe even thrilled -- to finally have a chance to learn some aspects of the actual technique of acting.

The whole show is premised on a fairly recent scientific rediscovery that there are universal human gestures, along with culturally acquired ones. Certain expressions or actions almost always reflect distinct emotions -- disgust, fear, love, hope, relief, anger, shame, grief.

So when you see them, you know something about what's going on inside -- though it's still a challenge to find out exactly why that particular emotion is being shown.

I absolutely believe this is true. I was "trained" as an American actor, and I remember reading An Actor Prepares, in which Stanislavsky essentially wipes away the classical acting tradition in which the back of the hand to the forehead means grief, and so on.

Then our youngest daughter was born, and before she was fully verbal, when she wanted to show that she was suffering, the back of her hand flew up to her forehead.

Stanislavsky was right -- but for the wrong reason. That is exactly the right gesture for someone who is trying to display grief in order to manipulate others; it's phony, but it's genuinely phony. There really are preset gestures that are embedded in our genes.

American actors try to get their faces to show the right emotions by tricking themselves into feeling the emotions. British actors know that it really works better the other way: showing the signs of emotion actually creates that feeling inside the actor.

I've been teaching young actors to cry exactly that way -- produce all the signs of crying, while "trying" not to let anyone see that you're crying, and lo and behold -- real sobs. ("But don't make it so real that your nose starts to run -- that's so icky for the audience, and the costumer will hate you when you wipe it on your sleeve.")

What I'm saying is, this show is like a master class in acting technique.

And the cast of the show is up to the job. Lightman is assisted by three professionals, played by Monica Raymund, Brendan Hines, and Kelli Williams (late of The Practice). They are all written brilliantly (primarily by Samuel Baum), so they have something to work with.

Lightman is also given a family, though not so comfortable a one as Allison Dubois's. His ex-wife (played in two episodes by Jennifer Beals doing the best work of her life) is colorful enough, but his daughter, Emily, played by Hayley McFarland, is revelatory.

*

Television is to our culture now what plays were to Elizabethan England -- the despised medium that nevertheless produces the most brilliant and lasting work.

Lasting? Television is ephemeral, isn't it?

Well, it was in the days before videotape -- most of those early shows are simply lost. And some great shows -- like Life and the most recent A Touch of Evil -- last only a season (or less) and never built up enough episodes to go into syndication. (You usually need a hundred or so episodes, and half-hour comedies are more easily kept alive than one-hour dramas.)

Of course, nowadays we have DVDs, and studios have discovered that they can sometimes make more money from the DVD of a series than they did from the initial run. That's how Firefly became a cult hit -- with far too few episodes to be syndicated, the DVDs were passed from hand to hand until millions of people realized how dumb Fox had been to cancel it in favor of truly ephemeral reality shows.

But the DVD phenomenon is fairly recent. Until then we had to rely only on memory to keep many of these cultural artifacts alive.

This week I got an email chain letter -- but because it was from a group of very smart friends, I actually paid attention to it. It was a kind of game: Think of a "lost TV series" -- one that isn't out there making money -- and add it to a growing list of memories.

Inevitably, of course, for some people it evolved into a nostalgia trip -- no one can call Star Trek a "lost" series -- but there's nothing wrong with nostalgia. What was cool was the way all of us enjoyed dredging back in our memories to bring up TV shows that we loved.

So for every Friends there was a My Favorite Martian or My Little Margie or My Mother the Car; for every Star Trek there was a Sky King or The Rogues or Have Gun, Will Travel.

I'm not going to publish the list here. But it will be with this column when it appears online, either at my website or the Rhino's. And besides the actual list my friends (and their friends) created (though with the names removed), I've added some of my own nominees.

(I can't believe that none of them mentioned The Twilight Zone or Dobie Gillis or Carol Burnett or The Honeymooners, but I guess I'm not surprised that I'm the only one to remember The Eve Arden Show, Sea Hunt, and Cheyenne.)

Now, my friends and I are old coots -- baby boomers who actually remember (some of us at least) The Cisco Kid, The Lone Ranger, Howdy-Doody, and Love That Bob. But when I showed the list to my fifteen-year-old daughter, she said, "Most of these shows aren't 'lost.' I've heard of them."

Even shows that she's never seen are referred to in shows she has seen. This supposedly ephemeral cultural medium has more staying power than anyone suspected.

When future anthropologists and historians study our time, they won't understand us unless they watch our television shows.


The List of "Lost Shows" from the original chain letter

The rules allowed each person to add only one TV series to the list. The idea was to remind each other of treasures that no one talks about much anymore.

That doesn't mean the rules were enforced! Many contributors simply tagged their favorite shows from childhood or adolescence, even though it's still a strong influence in today's culture. Think of Star Trek, for instance. And some of the choices are still on the air, or are in syndication in heavy rotation. It's hard not to find Friends playing somewhere!

But that's fine -- these things can evolve and there was nothing at stake! So take it as a list of old favorites, and see how many you remember -- or ever heard of! Our fifteen-year-old had actually heard of a surprising number of shows that haven't been aired in her lifetime!

Any comments in parentheses ( ) were made by the person who nominated the series; the dates of the series and any necessary explanations are in brackets [ ]; and my comments and unnecessary explanations are in braces { }.

I followed the rules. Sort of. Only one series in this list was nominated by me. But then I included an additional list of series that I was surprised not to see nominated, or that I would have nominated myself if I had been given the chance.

Alias Smith & Jones [1971-73]

American Bandstand [1952-89] {officially listed in IMDB as "New American Bandstand"}

The A-Team [1983-87]

The Banana Splits Adventure Hour [1968-70]

Bewitched [1964-72]

Big Valley [1965-69]

Bonanza [1959-73]

The Brady Bunch [1969-74]

Captain Kangaroo [1955-92]

Car 54, Where Are You? [1961-63]

Charlie's Angels [1976-81]

Cheers [1982-93]

CHiPS [1977-83]

The Cisco Kid [1950-56]

Combat! [1962-67] (Sergeant Saunders {Vic Morrow} was the bomb)

The Cosby Show [1984-92]

The Courtship of Eddie's Father [1969-72]

Dallas [1978-92]

Dark Shadows [1966-71]

Designing Women [1986-93]

Dragnet [1951-50]

The Dukes of Hazzard [1979-85]

The Ed Sullivan Show [1948-71]

Electra Woman and Dyna Girl [1976]

Electric Company [1971-77] (kids show on PBS)

Emergency! [1972-79]

The Equalizer [1985-89]

Everyone Loves Raymond [1996-2005]

Fantasy Island [1978-84]

The Flintstones [1960-66]

Flipper [1964-68]

Friends [1994-2004]

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir [1968-70]

Gilligan's Island [1964-67]

Gomer Pyle USMC [1964-69]

Good Times [1974-79]

Greatest American Hero [1981-83]

Green Acres [1965-71]

Gunsmoke [1955-75]

The Hardy Boys [1977-79; alternated with Nancy Drew Mysteries]

Have Gun Will Travel [1957-63]

Hawaii Five-O [1968-80]

Hazel [1961-66]

Here Come the Brides [1968-70]

High Chaparral [1967-71] (blue eyes)

The Howdy Doody Show [1947-60]

I Dream of Jeannie [1964-70]

I Love Lucy [1951-57]

I'm Dickens, He's Fenster [1963-64]

I Spy [1965-68]

It Takes a Thief [1968-1970]

The Jetsons [1962-88]

Knots Landing [1979-93]

Land of the Lost [1974-77; tried again 1991-92]

Lassie [1954-74] {syndicated as Jeff's Collie with Tommy Rettig as Jeff Miller (early episodes) and as Lassie and Timmy with Jon Provost as Timmy Martin (blond kid, later episodes)}

Little House on the Prairie [1974-83]

The Little Rascals [1955] {really a syndication package of movie shorts from 1929-1938}

The Lone Ranger [1949-57]

Lost in Space [1965-68]

The Love Boat [1977-86]

Love That Bob [1955-59]; starring Robert Cummings; about a bachelor fashion photographer that was always after his models

McHale's Navy [1962-66]

The Magic Garden [1972-84]

Magnum, P.I. [1980-88]

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. [1964-68]

Mary Tyler Moore [1970-77] {and don't forget the spinoffs Rhoda and Phyllis}

M*A*S*H [1972-83]

Miami Vice [1984-89] (had the chicks and the new cool song ;-)

The Mickey Mouse Club [1955-59]

The Millionaire [1955-60]

Mister Ed [1961-66]

The Monkees [1966-68]

The Munsters [1964-66]

My Favorite Martian [1963-66]

My Friend Flicka [1956-58]

My Little Kitty {Can't find it in IMDB; found My Little Pony and Friends [1986] and My Little Pony Tales [1992], but I'm betting you can tell a kitty from a pony ...}

My Little Margie [1952-55]

My Mother the Car [1965-66] (bet nobody remembers this one) {I do -- loved Jerry Van Dyke, hated the car}

My Three Sons [1960-72]

Name That Tune [1953-59]; also The $100,000 Name That Tune [1974] and various other versions in 1975, 1977, 1983, 1997, and 2007]

National Velvet [1960]

Northern Exposure [1990-95]

NYPD Blue [1993-2005]

"Paladin" {actually the name of the main character in Have Gun, Will Travel; see above}, starring Richard Boone - "a knight without armor in a savage landů"

The Partridge Family [1970-74] (David Cassidy)

Perry Mason [1957-66]

Petticoat Junction [1963-70]

Please Don't Eat the Daisies [1965-67]

Quantum Leap!!! [1989-93]

Rawhide [1959-66]

The Rebel [1959-61]; Nick Adams played Johnny Yuma. I can still remember the theme song.

The Red Skelton Hour [1951-71]

The Rifleman [1958-63]

Reading Rainbow [1983 to present] {Since it's still on the air, can we really consider it a "lost" show?}

The Rockford Files [1974-80]

The Rogues [1964-65] (starring David Niven, Charles Boyer and Gig Young!!!!) {The same writing team -- Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts -- went on to create Charlie's Angels}

Romper Room [1953-94] {officially "Romper Room and Friends"}

Room 222 [1969-74] {created by James L. Brooks, who went on to create Mary Tyler Moore (the show, not the woman), Rhoda, Lou Grant, Taxi, The Tracey Ullman Show, The Simpsons, The Critic, and some of my favorite all-time movies}

Roseanne [1988-97]

Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In [1967-73]

The Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Show [1962] {This seems to have been an attempt to revive The Roy Rogers Show [1951-57]; or perhaps this was the name it was packaged under for syndication}

Sanford and Son [1972-77]

Sing Along with Mitch [1961-66]

Sky King [1951-62] (about a pilot in the west - in the '50's)

Smurfs [1981-1990]

Soul Train [1971 to present] (I can't believe nobody got this yet. {Perhaps because it's still on the air, and therefore isn't actually "lost."} There's another Dance show from the 70's. ????????)

Star Trek [1966-69]

Adventures of Superman [1952-58]

The Swamp Fox [1959-61] (Can you tell I had 4 brothers to watch with) {These were actually a miniseries of eight (or nine; IMDB and Wikipedia disagree) one-hour episodes, starring 33-year-old Leslie Nielsen, that aired as part of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color [1954-1990]; Davy Crockett, the first miniseries in television history, was previously launched the same way -- along with its catchy theme song, "The Ballad of Davy Crockett"; Wikipedia, by the way, calls the series that launched it "Disneyland."}

Three's Company [1977-84]

12 O'Clock High [1964-67] (with my nomination for the best theme music ever composed for TV)

The Waltons [1972-81]

The West Wing [1999-2006] (I am still in mourning)

Wild Kingdom [1963-88] (Marlin Perkins)

Orson's additions, taking more turns than the rules allow

All in the Family [1971-1979] {and don't forget the spinoffs, Maude and The Jeffersons}

The Carol Burnett Show [1967-78] {The last and best of the great variety shows}

Cheyenne [1955-63] {Clint Walker ... He was Clint Eastwood before Clint Eastwood was}

Columbo [1971 and sporadically through 2003] {Technically never a "series," but rather a bunch of tv movies starring the same character and following the same basic format; but after 67 shows, I call it a series}

The Eve Arden Show [1957-58] {Her sarcastic tone was apparently too much for the TV audience}

Firefly [2002-3] {The best sci-fi series of all time; not really "lost" but it would have been if we didn't have DVDs now}

Hart to Hart [1979-84] {novelist Sidney Sheldon created this one}

The Honeymooners [1955-56] {plus many bits on The Jackie Gleason Show}

The Jeffersons [1975-85] {one of the All in the Family spinoffs}

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis [1959-63] {The series that pretty much ended Dwayne Hickman's acting career and launched Bob Denver's ... go figure}

Route 66 [1960-64] {Martin Milner and George Maharis in the quintessential road series}

Sea Hunt [1958-61]

Topper [1953-55] {This "ghost comedy" was my earliest memory of a TV series, unless you count my overhearing my parents tell my aunt and uncle that they wanted to stay up to watch "Red Skeleton," which frightened me no end. Imagine my relief when I later found out he was a comedian.}

The Twilight Zone [1959-64] {best anthology show ever}

Wagon Train [1957-65] {Star Trek in the old west}

The Wild, Wild West [1965-69] {James Bond in the old west}

Shows that needed to die a quick, merciful death ... whether they actually did or not.

Cop Rock [1990] {It's sweet that Steven Bochco loves musicals. It's nice that he created great cop shows like Hill Street Blues, LA Law, and, later, NYPD Blue and Murder One. But it's hard to care about a cop show where the judge and jury in a capital trial are likely to burst into song. We're talking about awfulness like Lost Horizon: The Musical.}


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