Thursday, October 27, 2005

There are no stupid TV shows PART II Halloween Edition.

Last week I said in my column (There are no stupid TV shows, just.... Okay some are stupid.) That,

"I was reminiscing with friends about our favorite episodes of Gilligan's Island and Get Smart. Then I remembered that many of the adults in my life (not children of television) dismissed the two shows as stupid. Both of these shows were on the air when I was born and have been airing ever since. The wealth of talent in front of and behind the camera has to be a huge contributing factor to a show's longevity. I was able to enjoy both shows in syndication. Both Gilligan's Island (1964-1967) and Get Smart (1965-1970) were on when I came home from school. These were shows that I enjoyed on one level then and on a different level now."

I realized that I had made similar statements about other classic TV sitcoms. In the spirit of Halloween I wanted to revisit some of the comments I made about some macabre shows. In Not a Black and White Issue. I mentioned that,

"Samantha & Darrin Stephens were the first mixed married couple on a television show Bewitched to actually discuss their differences. The show featured a witch (Elizabeth Montgomery) who married a mortal (Dick York & Dick Sargent). Underneath the mother in law jokes, nosey neighbors and special effects, serious issues like prejudice, negative stereotypes and tolerance were covered. How many times did we see Endora (Agnes Moorehead) tell Samantha that she disapproved of her daughter marring a mortal, what mortals did to them in the early days of Salem, or how mortals depict witches with hooked noses and warts. If you did not know that I was talking about TV witches, you might think that I was talking about one of a number of disenfranchised minorities.

If you think that I am connecting the dots incorrectly like some conspiracy theorist, I would encourage you to do a Google search and type in "Bewitched" and "Mixed Marriage", see what you find. I also want to point out that when Bewitched first premiered in 1964 it was not without controversy. Some stations refused to carry the show under pressure from religious groups that did not like the idea of a fine red blooded American male marrying a witch, a witch seen in a positive light, or an attractive witch (a problem that also pledged Glinda the Good when the 1939 MGM production of the The Wizard of Oz aired on TV). After Dick Sergeant joined the cast there was a concern that the public might find out that he was gay, even though no one was concerned about Uncle Arthur (Paul Lynde)."

I also mentioned that, The Munsters (Fred Gwynne & Yvonne De Carlo) were a mixed marriage of a vampire (descended from nobility) and the Frankenstein monster. Because the characters were monsters, their diversity was never made an issue either. Nor was it made an issue that they were the first married couple on TV to sleep in the same bed." I would later mention in The Beauty of The Munsters & The Addams Family.

The Addams Family
"The show mocked other TV families by being their polar opposite. This family would do everything from sword fighting to blowing up model trains in the middle of their own living room. If Fear Factor was around then, they would have the home version. I don't think anybody knew where John Aston began and Gomez Addams ended. Everything gave him a rush and his love for Morticia can only be described as horney monogamy. With all the craziness the show had moral high ground. Not only did you see a loving family where the parents were not afraid to show affection in front of the kids, you got to see so called "normal people" compromise their principles in order to do business with Gomez followed by humorous consequences.

The Munsters
"The Show is a brilliant mix of three key ingredients.The classic Universal Studios Monsters from the 1930 & 40's (that were finding a whole new audience thanks to Saturday Matinee "Creature Features" on TV)The placing of these monsters in the world of Leave It to Beaver (In fact the Munster's house is still across the street from the Cleaver's house on the Universal Back Lot only now Desperate Housewives have moved in). The "normal people’s" reactions to our family similar to those seen in Casper cartoons. The patriarch is the Frankenstein monster who married Dracula's daughter and live in the states as an "Typical American Family". There is more to Herman than a big stupid baby who throws tantrums by saying, "Darn! Darn! Darn! Darn!" Here is a character that is the Frankenstein monster, but he really thinks he is Fred MacMurray from My Three Sons. Fred Gwynne could deliver Ward Cleaver (Hugh Beaumont) type dialogue totally straight and was incredibly funny doing it. He was also able to play the stooge to Al Lewis in one scene, and then straight man to guest stars Paul Lynde or Harvey Korman in another.

Because of the macabre settings of the show, I think the writers were able to slip things under the censor’s radar. The wild look in Gomez’s eyes when he and Morticia played with whips and chains came very close to S&M. The Munsters did jokes about Vietnam, nuclear war and drugs. Herman & Lily were also the first TV couple to sleep in the same bed while Gomez & Morticia had twin beds of nails."

It’s scary how many topics that are still taboo today were used on these shows decades ago. All three of these shows have been remade in one form or another, and perhaps with the exception of the 1991 The Addams Family movie, the projects lacked the heart or intent of their original.

To quote Samantha Stephens, "Well?"

Stay Tuned & Happy Halloween.

Tony Figueroa
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