Monday, February 21, 2011

Greatest TV Show Openings of All-Time: #s 21-16

Yes, the greatest wave of revolutions since 1989 is sweeping across the Caliphate, the question of the purpose of human life in 21st century society is still (I believe) very much unsettled, and the resources that support all the comforts of contemporary life that most people least want to give up are being rapidly depleted. So I am not going to try to defend myself for this topic.

I should note that I have not watched much television since the early 90s, so my selections are heavily skewed towards the shows of the 60s and 70s that were in syndication during my youth. My impression is that those were the golden years of TV theme songs anyway.

#21--Bonanza. I have a top 21 instead of a top 20 because I forgot one show and had to fit it in after I started. I thought there ought to be a Western, and I thought that this opening was overall the coolest. The genre was mature by this time, and the whole presentation has an unforced self-assurance about it that is appealing in these more uncertain times.

#20--Welcome Back Kotter. Not an inspired choice, but the song is catchy and footage of 70s era New York always carries some interest. When I first saw this opening as a kid I was distressed by the sign proclaiming Brooklyn as the 4th largest city in America. "No!" I thought, and nearly declared, emphatically, "Philadelphia is the 4th largest city in America!" It was the fourth largest city at the time, when one did not count Brooklyn separately, though now it is down to 6th or maybe even 7th. As I grew up there and was always conscious from an early age of being dominated by New York--now Washington and even Boston have emerged as further more substantial rivals, but in the 70s neither seemed as significant as they have become since--one of my great desires as a child was to find a way to increase the population of Philadelphia so that it could supplant New York in the battle for national supremacy and magazine writers and television commentators and producers would have to suck up to us, our teams, our eccentric characters and all the rest the way they always did to New York and Los Angeles.

One of the commenters on Youtube stated that the El in Brooklyn is no longer there. Is this true? I went out to Coney Island sometime in the late 90s and I am positive it was still there then. That would be a sad development.

This was an odd show for fans of ethnic and racial stereotypes. I mean Kotter is obviously Jewish, and then you have the black guy who plays basketball and the Italian guy who is popular with the ladies, but then there is the Puerto Rican Jew, which I suppose is probably an actual type, but one which, if the show was any indication, seemed to be seriously cut off from Jewish culture as most people think of it despite living in the heart of New York City. And Horshack I guess was supposed to be Polish, and perhaps Jewish as well, though that would seem to be an awfully high percentage of Jewish characters for a show set in a remedial history class in a 1970s high school. I don't know any ethnic Poles who are dweeby little guys with screechy voices however. Poles are like Lithuanians, in modern personality/dynamism terms lumbering and slow-witted perhaps compared to people from more vibrant climates, but physically they tend to be built more like middle linebackers than classic nerds.

#19--Hawaii Five O. Some people think this is #1. It makes a good first impression. The tone is urgent, the images, coming rapidly, suggest decadence and exoticism and mild danger, not usually enough to put a damper on your social life. I never watched the show.

#18--Good Times. I did a lot of research on these Good Times openings--they changed it almost every year--and settled on one of the later years when they showed clips from the show. In the early seasons the opening was scenes from the tough streets of 1970s Chicago (were any streets ever tougher than those of American cities in the 1970s?)--I remember reading that the family's apartment was supposed to be in the truly legendary and infamous Cabrini Green housing project, since demolished with great fanfare--but I don't have any personal connection to Chicago, so the effect of the vintage footage on me is not the same as when eastern cities are featured. Of course it is flat, with long, perfectly straight streets, and the buildings are not set as closely together as in eastern cities. It frankly looks a little weird to me.

If only ghetto life were really like this--well, actually it still looked pretty bad. The characters on the show were not especially dysfunctional--plenty of marriages, nobody dropping out of school, other than JJ everybody's work ethic/desire to hold a job seemed pretty high, everybody living together. It's kind of disturbing that they were never able to substantially improve their situation.

#17--Get Smart. If the dominant form of our current age is, or has been, reality television, this must represent a kind of opposite pole from the dominant paradigm of the 1960s, which seemed to be to think up the most ridiculous and unserious premise for a storyline one possibly could. Numerous examples of this will be found throughout these rankings. Much TV is always aimed at young people, and some of the more 'successful' concepts of the 60s were those which took a mocking view of various aspects of society and the culture as a teenager would have likely perceived them. This is why they are so silly, though in some instances mildly amusing. It is hard to say that the adults of the time did not take themselves as seriously as they do now, because obviously in many ways they did, but I do think people who wrote and produced TV shows in the 1960s were a little more open to the idea of the process being fundamentally absurd than people who write equally silly shows are now.

#16--The Beverly Hillbillies. Another example of the 60s' peculiar genius for totally absurd plotlines. Great song, with its twanging banjo, ludicrous lyrics, and mock serious presentation. The studios used to have guys in-house who would bang out these little ditties apropos of nothing on assignment. Of course back in the 30s and 40s they would have to come up with six of seven songs for an upcoming musical within a month or two. Does anybody do this anymore, other than John Williams and Randy Newman, who aren't exactly writing the kinds of things I'm talking about anyway? It can't be that hard, we've just fallen out of the habit of making people do it.

Granny has to be one of the five greatest characters in the history of television.

I won't be doing these all in a row, so it will probably be two weeks before I put up the next set.

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