August 24, 2016

Sitcoms: no laughing matter!

Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited back on Dan Schneider's YouTube interview program, along with Daniel Budnik, the greatest Polish-American television blogger ever, and Stephen Winzenburg, Communication Professor at Grand View College in Des Moines* and author of TV's Greatest Sitcoms, to sit around the virtual table and discuss the history of the American sitcom.

*Hopefully he didn't read this piece before the show.

It was great fun spending a Saturday morning talking about TV with two experts, and I don't mind telling you I really had to scramble to keep up with them. Fortunately, once someone thinks you know what you're talking about, you're able to fake it with a couple of smart-sounding lines; the show didn't run long enough for me to be uncovered.

You know, a lot of people think it's intimidating appearing on television, but it really isn't that big a deal, and it helps when you're able to appear from home. For example, although you can't tell from the video, I'm not wearing any pants. It gets hot in Texas in August even with air conditioning, and wearing a sportcoat while sitting under the lights for three hours is enough to make anyone break out in a sweat. Under those circumstances, one takes any little edge he can get. Remember well those words of wisdom from the 1980s, which probably appeared on several of these very sitcoms.

Anyway, be gentle with your comments!


  1. Starts well, but the tinniness of the remote (FaceTime?) soundtrack for you and the other panelists makes it a physically tough listen for me. I bet I'd enjoy it.

  2. Lucy didn't work well with Vivian Vance? Vance wasn't funny? Boy, do I disagree. I'm surprised that all four of you have, what seems to me, a narrow, almost clinical, view of ILL.

    Other than Lucy, there was so little discussion of female characters on sitcoms. Several minutes were devoted to The Odd Couple, but almost nothing was said about MTM's work -- not just the show itself, but MTM as a '70s icon for single women, her relationship with Rhoda (a GREAT duo!), etc.

    As for earlier television, you can see the changes taking place for women of the era reflected in the opening credits of The Donna Reed Show ( For many girls, Donna represented the ideal wife and mother -- someone who was devoted to family, but was her own person, and beautiful, too.

    I'm really surprised at how many women on sitcoms were overlooked in this discussion. I think you need some female input in the future.

    1. I think that's a fair observation; although I had no part in choosing the members of the panel, undoubtedly it would have benefited by having the right woman panelist.

      Although I don't care for either Mary Tyler Moore or Marlo Thomas myself (and although That Girl might not have risen to the heights of a great sitcom, there's no doubt it did play a major role in portraying an independent young woman), I think you're absolutely right about Donna Reed, and that the character of Alice Kramden, no matter who the actress playing her, was essential in acting as a humanizing agent for Ralph.

      One consideration is the relative narrowness of the topic, which concentrated on "great" comedies using a definition that I though was fairly specific; Dan Schneider's essay, on which the show was based, was able to provide in greater detail why some sitcoms appeared while others did not.

      Your points are well taken, though, and I think you could convincingly make the case that Mary/Rhoda clearly deserves mention when discussing the great comedy teams of television. Excellent comment!


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!