"A horror of Right-Wing imbecility" - Harlan Ellison
There are certain things that you hear about and you say, "It can't be THAT bad, could it?" and many times, you are proved wrong.
Well, not this time. This show was made, seemingly as a reaction to the youth culture, the Democratic party (every show ends with a photo of President Lyndon Johnson holding a piece of paper and a voice-over impersonation saying, "Mah first unemployment check". Read that again; it's the only humorous thing about the show) and "Laugh-In", which, in my mind, doesn't age too well, either, but at least it had it's funny moments. The reactionary stuff wouldn't have been bothersome had the show been funny.
Well, not this time. To begin with, it seems to have been made on the cheap, for the opening titles on the early shows seemed to have been a theme song and a close up of a sign with hanging letters, not unlike the type one would see announcing hotel conventions ("Welcome Elks Local 582") and even the copyright notice at the end is wrong, announcing that the show was made in MCMLXVIX, or something like 1960-59, at which point George Orwell's Eloi from the "Time Machine" might be watching it in equal disbelief.
Dean Jones, the host, would then come out on stage and say something along the lines of, "Hi, folks! This is a show about what it's all about, what it was like and the way it ought to be!". Even though the show had some talent behind it; two of the performers, Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon both wrote for the classic "Carol Burnett Show", the show's humor was still turgid and out-of step.
Cases in point: During a tribute to radio (to be fair, radio shows were something that a thirty to forty year-old would have memories of in 1969), Scoey Mitchlll, an African-American and another fellow, perhaps Ron Prince, a Caucasian do a skit based on the "Jack Benny Show". To make it "funny" the roles are reversed racially, Mitchlll plays Benny and Prince plays Rochester (neither doing a great job on character voices):
Benny: What do you think about this television business? Rochester: Ah don't know, but there's gonna have to be some changes made!
In a musical number, Jones comes out and says, "Nowadays, we are familiar with the sounds of folk-rock, with it's R&B and Gospel roots (Hmmm...), but we'd like to give you something different, a tribute to Noel Coward!" I am a fan of Coward's work, however, I doubt that any teens of the time would have put down their Byrds records (which would have been 3 or 4 years old by now) or their Bob Dylan albums and prayed for a really good version of "The Stately Homes of England". I also would doubt that the over-accented versions of what they did sing would have won them over. In a sad attempt at the "Aww..." factor, there was also a version of "Mad About the Boy" as sung by cast member "Happy Hollywood" (Bayn Johnson, who later sang with the "Electric Company"'s Short Circus) a cloying moppet in very bad Shirley Temple wig. Her voice is fine, but...but...EGAD!
Considering ABC's constant attempts to win over a younger audience, which it largely succeeded in after this, this misstep is so shockingly bad, it's perversely fascinating to watch. Currently, the Good Life TV network is showing it in half-hour form, which is long enough.
The variety show format, which was always a tough genre to be completely successful in (how can you ask anyone to mount a successful stage show in a week and then ask all involved to do it again and this time with a different script and cast additions?), could do much to expose it's weaknesses at it's nadir, but did have it's bright spots at the best times.
Well, not this time.
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