MASH, Maude, and Kung Fu all turn 50
Tyrades By Danny Tyree
I didn’t watch all of them from the very beginning, but several significant TV shows debuted in the fall of 1972.
“The Bob Newhart Show” starred Bob Newhart (who turned 93 on September 5) as psychologist Bob Hartley. Bob’s trademark stammer didn’t seem all that noticeable to me. I was just starting junior high school and being at a loss for words was par for the course around the ninth-grade girls. I imagined lying face-down on Bob’s couch to hide the zits. If Bob had added a P.E. climbing rope in his office, I’ll bet all his patients would have plunged out the window.
“M*A*S*H,” of course, followed the doctors and support staff of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. The comedy-drama could genuinely surprise us (as with Corporal Radar O’Reilly announcing the death of Col. Henry Blake). If “M*A*S*H” had been created in the 2020s, we would instead steel ourselves for the predictable, with a dazed Radar muttering, “My teddy bear just announced that he’s a lesbian.”
The “M*A*S*H” producers scrupulously turned off the laugh track during surgery scenes. Our hypothetical “M*A*S*H” of 2022? They would doubtless instead have guest-star Joe Biden pop in to remind the audience, “Not a joke.”
“M*A*S*H” ranked #46 in the Nielsen ratings for its inaugural season and was nearly canceled. When it bowed out 11 years later, the finale became the most watched U.S. television broadcast in history at that time, with 106 million viewers. TV programmers still haven’t learned patience. Most shows come on and off faster than one of Klinger’s gowns.
“Maude” gave us both Bea Arthur (as “that uncompromisin’, enterprisin’, anything but tranquilizin’ right on Maude”) and Rue McClanahan (as her confidante Vivian Harmon) more than a decade before their “Golden Girls” misadventures. During the fourth season, I ran home from my afterschool job every Monday night to catch “Maude” (and its lead-in, “All in the Family,” featuring Maude’s cousin, Edith Bunker).
“Maude” was a ratings powerhouse for most of its network run, but I read in Norman Lear’s autobiography that local station program directors balked at the syndicated reruns, using a crude term for a domineering woman. I can just imagine Maude sternly announcing, “God will get you for that, local station program directors.”
“The Waltons” became a nostalgic Thursday night destination for entire families, but that was then. Nowadays, the familiar “Good night, John-Boy” would be replaced with “Be sure to turn off your back-lit electronic devices half an hour before bedtime, John-Boy.”
ABC’s wildly popular “Kung Fu” starred David Carradine as Shaolin priest and martial arts expert Kwai Chang Caine. The show could truly have used a “Grasshopper, don’t try this at home” disclaimer. No telling how many pulled muscles, bruised jaws and broken vases came out of kids imitating the action.
“The Streets of San Francisco” (pairing Hollywood veteran Karl Malden with a young Michael Douglas) was a worthy addition to the Quinn Martin Productions stable. Mercifully, it came and went before the current trend of police procedural “franchises,” or we would have “The Streets of San Francisco: Dirt Roads of Podunk.”
The TV networks are breathlessly hyping their new shows, but will anyone remember them this fondly in 2072?
Maybe, just maybe. And maybe by then I will finally be rid of this wedgie. *Sigh* Good old school days.
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