On Television and Comedy

Essays on Style, Theme, Performer and Writer

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About the Book

Television comedy traces its roots to vaudeville, radio and film, from which it developed its own unique forms to make the audience laugh. These styles became industry standards: the so-called traditional forms of variety shows and situation comedies. In recent years modern comedy—nighttime variety shows, adult programs, stand-up acts, British imports, parody shows, for instance—have gained increasing acceptance, with these innovative forms bringing an artistry often lost under the traditional formats. These 13 essays trace the history of television comedy from the genius of Jack Benny, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan and Lucille Ball to the antics of ALF, Martin Mull, Julie Brown and the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Emphasis is placed on the development and artistry of the genre as evidenced in shows such as Dobie Gillis, Green Acres, Newhart, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Bewitched.

About the Author(s)

Barry Putterman, a freelance film and television critic, lives in New York.

Bibliographic Details

Barry Putterman
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 220
Bibliographic Info: 15 photos, index
Copyright Date: 2014 [1995]
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7741-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface ix
Introduction: Taking Comedy Seriously 1

Part I: Traditional 5
1. Defining Our Television Heritage I: Traditional Television Values 7
2. Jack Benny and the Surrealism of the Ordinary 22
3. The Boys of Benny and Burns: Dobie Gillis, Green Acres, The Bob Newhart Show, and Newhart 32
4. The Sennett Tradition: I’m Dickens. . . He’s Fenster, Camp Runamuck, Valentine’s Day, Occasional Wife, and The Monkees 48
5. I Found It at the Movies: Sid Caesar, Carol Burnett, and Don Adams 71
6. ALF in the Family: The People’s Choice, Topper, Bewitched, ALF 90
7. The Granfaloon Family: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Odd Couple, and Their Idiot Children 107
Part II: Modern 123
8. Defining Our Television Heritage II: This Day and Age 125
9. Visit from a Small Planet: The Comedy World of Ernie Kovacs 136
10. “It’s My Show So Who Cares”: Martin Mull, Julie Brown, and the Stand-ups 145
11. Ernie Kovacs’ Nastiest Whelps: The Comic Strip and British “Alternative Comedy” 161
12. French and Saunders: Anatomy of a Comedy Team 180
13. “I’m Not Sure What Motivates Them”: The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling 189

Afterword: Subjects for Further Research 197
Index 201

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “fascinating, literate and informative…simply first-class writing…. Recommended”—Classic Images
  • “interesting and informative…author’s insights are enlightening…the book’s look at TV comedy’s history and development makes it very worthwhile”—Examiner.com