Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle TV Eye

By Margaret Moser

DECEMBER 22, 1997:  Of the many things to be grateful for this season, oh reader, thank your lucky stars I am sparing you the heartwarming story of how an Eight Is Enough Christmas episode brought my estranged family together. Suffice it to say that it was the one after Mom Bradford (Diana Hyland) died and Tommy (Willie Aames) acted out his anger until the discovery of mom's hidden Christmas present made him realize what a shallow, self-absorbed little twit he'd been.

I bring this up because we all know the next few days are going to bring a plethora of shows that will feature tinkly Christmas music in the background plus some sort of politically correct reminder of other cultural celebrations of the season while secretly reveling in the Christian tradition. Christmas episodes, especially for the prime-time shows, are by design emotion-packed morality tales. Now and then they offer some genuine warmth and creativity but too often they are simply seasonal excuses to inject meaning into otherwise worthless programs, and make the shallow, self-absorbed character realize what a twit he's been.

I vote The Mary Tyler Moore Show Christmas episode where the news crew is snowbound at WJM and are forced to have a holiday dinner on the set of The Happy Homemaker as my favorite Christmas episode of all time. (That episode of My So-Called Life with Julianna Hatfield as the runaway angel is my second favorite Christmas episode and it will take me no time to get worked up over that damn Eight Is Enough one.) It's significant to me because it would also probably make my list of shows I would take to a desert island. I choose it because it was a truly inspired script and because the image of Mary Richards wearing the German army helmet and Lou Grant in a sombrero still makes me laugh hysterically.

In an aside here, I would like to praise the holy angels watching over Nick At Nite's programmers for ditching those godawful re-runs of The Munsters (The Addams Family was cooler and better) and I Dream of Jeannie (no redeeming qualities). I quit watching Nick when morons thought replacing The Patty Duke Show (someday I will write a column on the "Monica Syndrome" and I know some of you know what I mean already) and Dragnet with even dippier fluff like Happy Days was smart. I have slowly worked Nick back into my viewing, mostly late at night when I can tape Mary (weeknights, 9:30pm) so it doesn't interfere with ER, Homicide, NYPDBlue, South Park, and Austin Stories on the nine-spot, then I catch the grand slam of Taxi (weeknights, 10pm), Newhart (weeknights, 10:30pm), and The Dick Van Dyke Show (weeknights, 11pm). I usually flip around during Bewitched (weeknights, 11:30pm) and The Odd Couple (weeknights, midnight) because I find the scheduling of quality nostalgia (Dick Van Dyke, Newhart) much better than forced nostalgia (Bewitched). I usually watch my taped MTM then, and will often watch it a second time waiting to hit The Bob Newhart Show (weeknights, 1am) and Rhoda (weeknights, 1:30am).

This little bit of programming always reminds me of the heyday of Seventies television, when Norman Lear and MTM Productions ruled Saturday night TV. The 1970 Saturday night schedule featured MTM at 8:30pm, wedged between Mission Impossible, My Three Sons, and Mannix on CBS. The next year, MI jumped to 9pm, and All in the Family led the evening at 7pm. In 1972, The Bob Newhart Show was added next to MTM and The Carol Burnett Show replaced MI at 9pm. It turned into glory viewing for the 1974 season: All in the Family followed by M*A*S*H, MTM, Bob Newhart, and Carol Burnett. It would be nice if Nickelodeon followed suit.

By the time Saturday night viewing was over, dinner was over and we were all oiled up for a night of carousing at the old Soap Creek Saloon or whooping it up at the Armadillo or One Knite. Sigh. That's largely how I remember Seventies television: great Saturday night viewing ó that, Soul Train, and half-hour soap opera in the pre-VCR days. And 1977's weepy final episode of MTM that will make me hum "It's a Long Way To Tipperary" today until some sappy Christmas tune replaces it.

I have been corresponding with some "TV Eye" readers about "Desert Island TV" shows and have received some very thoughtful responses. I also heard more about cartoons ó talk about the proverbial can of worms.... One would think that comic/theatre artist Rob Nash would have more important things to think about than TV shows, but I was so tickled that the very first list I got was from him. What I really enjoy about reading these lists is the variety of viewing and emotions that reveal themselves in the choices. Here are Nash's:

  1. The Roseanne where Darla starts wearing black. Still makes me cry every time.

  2. The Saturday Night Live O.J. Simpson hosted. He kisses Laraine Newman, Bill Murray, and Garrett Morris.

  3. TheMary Tyler Moore Show Chuckles the Clown episode (Duh).

  4. The I Love Lucy where they need to speak to a German official and since Ricky speaks Spanish and English they find a Frenchman who speaks Spanish and Italian and an Italian man who speaks Italian and German and the lines of dialogue pass through five languages and back. Brilliant.

  5. The SCTV where Guy Caballero (Joe Flaherty) plays the Don in a Godfather spoof.

  6. That Warner Bros. cartoon where Elmer Fudd sings "Kill De Wabbit" to the "Ride of the Valkyries."

  7. The gay Frasier. Frasier's new boss mistakes him, his father Martin, and his brother Niles as gay.

  8. Which Simpsons??? How about the B-Sharps where Homer, Barney, Principal Skinner, and Apu are a famous Barbershop Quartet?

  9. The series premiere of News Radio.

  10. The series finale of M*A*S*H.

Ah yes, M*A*S*H... Now that's a whole column in itself....

P.S. Hey Corky, I know you read this column because you told me the Desert Island TV list should only have five entries, not 10. So what's your favorite Christmas show? I know you have one, you sentimental fool. No fair using little Jack's choices!


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