Thursday, January 12, 2006

Those were the days.

Today marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the most groundbreaking situation comedy in television history. I still watch these classic episodes on TV Land. This weekend TV Land will run an All in the Family marathon and an All in the Family TV Land's TOP TEN. I wanted to honor this TV milestone by re-posting an article that I originally wrote as a rant when a woman from Germany asked me, "Why do American Comedy shows have recorded laughter when the shows are not done in front of an audience?"
Please note that I wrote this before My Name Is Earl and The Office.

Where’s Norman Lear now that we need him?
Originally posted Friday, December 17, 2004

"I wish that life came with a laugh track. That way people who can't see how funny life really is can at least pretend they get it."
Tony Figueroa

We are the only country in the world that uses laugh tracks on comedy shows when they are not filmed in front of a live audience. It seems like it's done just so the stupid people won't feel bad, or dare I say, stupid when they don't get the joke.I have a friend whom once missed pronounced "Sit-Com" by adding an "H". He paused when he realized what he just said, and responded with, "You know what? Freud once said, there are no accidents".

The fate of the sitcom is uncertain. This is sad, painful, and concerning to me.
Sad, because my goal in life is to write, produce and star in my own sit-com.
Painful because most of the sit-coms that we have left are just bad. It's painful to even watch them. No new ideas, bad acting, and bad writing. Instead of a plot they string together a bunch of sexual innuendoes and call it "sophisticated". That's not a sit-com. That's a burlesque show.For example, the girl with the large breasts is dumb and the girl with the small breasts is smart. But the girl with the small breasts is still jealous of the girl with the large breasts because she has large breasts. I guess that's more sophisticated than what we did in the old days when the blond was dumb and the brunette was smart. Or we see, Enter smart black guy. He greets stupid white guy. Within a few seconds we hear, "You know, some of my best friends are black".
All of this concerns me, so I have to ask, "Where are today’s Norman Lears, Larry Gelbarts and Susan Harriss? People who used comedy to talk about war, prejudice, and the issues of the day". Now don't shout out your answers, it’s a rhetorical question. I know where they are. They're telling stories in coffeehouses STORY SALON. They're making underground comedy albums that make fun of the current administration. They're in 99 seat houses doing controversial plays. They’re everywhere just not on TV. Why? Some say that it’s the dumming down of the TV viewer who would rather see a bikini clad girl in a tank filled with electric eels or a guy eating goat testicles than something that requires them to think. In the process, this puts talented actors and writers out of work. Others feel that in this current political climate anything topical especially when it is mocking or criticizing the current administration is considered dissent, treasonous or just down right Un-American. We can debate this forever, but the third and most practical reason is that this is a business and topical sit-coms do not do well in syndication where the money is.

On a very personal note: After 9/11 I kept hearing all these great singers sing "God Bless America". Then something in my Child of Television mind clicked while watching the memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. I remembered a few months prior to the attacks, Carroll O'Connor, who created the role of Archie Bunker in All in the Family, had died. In all the television tributes to Mr. O’Connor one scene was shown repeatedly. The scene from All in the Family where Archie sings God Bless America. So while this mezzo-soprano sang her beautiful rendition of God Bless America, in the back of my head I heard Archie Bunker singing, "God bless America you dumb Pollack!" And I had my first laugh since the tragedy. It started as a snicker. Then I actually looked around my living room as if I was in church to make sure no one saw me laugh. The absurdity of the situation caused me to laugh louder. All of a sudden, during a very solemn occasion I became Mary Richards at Chuckles the Clown’s funeral.

Thank you Norman Lear and God Bless Carroll O'Connor.

To quote David Hyde Pierce in his Emmy acceptance speech, "I heard that the sit-com as we know it is changing. When it changes back, please call me".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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