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BUFFALO BILL was originally received like a Neil LaBute or Todd Solondz
movie; the few who liked this program LOVED it, while the masses who
didn't like it LOATHED it.
There had been sitcoms starring essentially unlikable characters before, such as ALL IN THE FAMILY and FAWLTY TOWERS, but Archie Bunker and Basil Fawlty were veritable pussycats compared to Dabney Coleman's Bill Bittinger, host of a Buffalo, NY talk show. Think Coleman's "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" of a boss in the movie 9 TO 5 and you pretty much have his BUFFALO BILL character, only here he's surrounded not by feisty secretaries but by wimps and sycophants. His stage manager Woody (John Fiedler) worships him, his research assistant Wendy (a young, nubile Geena Davis) is flustered around him while his director/longtime girlfriend Jo-Jo (Joanna Cassidy) puts up with him primarily out of self-loathing.
Brandon Tartikoff wrote in his memoirs that his greatest regret as NBC head was canceling BUFFALO BILL in 1984; one more season and it might have become a hit. Executive producer Bernie Brillstein went on to oversee THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW, and he's said he considers that successful HBO sitcom (also about an insecure talk show host) to have been the critical and ratings hit BUFFALO BILL should have been.
The series was created by the great comedy team of Tom (ALF) Patchett and Jay (MOLLY DODD) Tarses, who wrote the funniest episodes of THE BOB NEWHART SHOW in the 1970s. They bitterly broke up by the end of this show's run. I suspect that even if BUFFALO BILL had become a SEINFELD or FRIENDS-level hit, they'd have broken up anyway because the show was emotionally draining for an early-1980s sitcom. In one two-parter Jo-Jo, pregnant with Bill's baby, vindictively gets an abortion. In another episode, the racist Bill fires his black makeup man Newdell (Charlie Robinson), only to have a nightmare where he's chased by grotesque black stereotypes who lip sync to Ray Charles' "Hit the Road, Jack." Bill rehires Newdell and is congratulated on his enlightenment. In other words, WE GOT IT MADE or MAMA'S FAMILY this wasn't.
While BUFFALO BILL may not offer instant gratification, sticking through the entire run is worth it. Each member of the outstanding ensemble gets a moment to shine, the guest stars include Martin Landau and Jim Carrey (who impersonates Jerry Lewis) and the story lines are well-constructed with intelligent dialogue. In a stroke of good fortune, all 26 episodes were released in a no-frills three-disc DVD set in the fall of 2005 -- unfortunately, licensing issues prevented the "Hit the Road, Jack" sequence from making this set. Do yourself a favor and pick this up. There won't be another sitcom quite like BUFFALO BILL on network TV anytime soon.
When will the network suits realize that they have genius within their
grasp: they've screwed up TWO Dabney Coleman series' in one decade and, of
the two, this one is the saddest loss.
In "Buffalo Bill", Coleman plays Bill Bittinger, the host of a local talk show in Buffalo, New York (naturally), who isn't above a little pushing, shoving, name-calling and double-dealing to get what he wants from his show, co-workers, fans, guests...the list goes on and on.
And of course, as created by the creative team of Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses, it is not lacking for sardonic wit and commentary so biting it leaves a mark. Just check their credits - they're no strangers to this territory.
And the supporting cast contains no slouchers. Joanna Cassidy, John Fiedler, Geena Davis (!), Charles Robinson (Mack from "Night Court"); every one of them is a pro and shine their brightest. But the best support comes from Max Wright, who plays Bill's station manager - the ever-paranoid Karl Shub.
But this show was at its best when Coleman was at his most corrosive. There were touchy subjects delved into here (racism, work ethics, demanding relationships, etc.), all sharpened to razor-keenness and delivered unflinchingly with only the slightest sugar-coating.
And HERE'S the weird part: after winning accolade after accolade from reviewers, magazines, TV fans and just about everybody else...it got CANCELED! WHY??! Well, probably because it dove a little TOO deep into what goes on behind the scenes of a TV show. Oh, those crazy network suits and their 180's....
Well, far be it from me to second-guess what NBC was thinking when they got rid of this singular gem in their schedule. But it was a bad move on their part, to say the least. Maybe they figured having "Hill Street Blues" was enough?
Ten stars for "Buffalo Bill", and one bonus star for Dabney Coleman at his best. If you ever get a chance, shuffle off to THIS "Buffalo".
Not ahead of it's time but firmly planted in the times. It gave us a nice look at the nastiness of the age. Hilarious. Probably one of the top three comedies to hit the airwaves. I have a distinct memory of laughing so hard that I fell off the couch. I have tried by hook or crook to get copies. I also think it's cancellation represents the true death of the soul of this country. The country had decided that it could not tolerate smart people writing for television. I don't know what it's numbers were but with a show of this quality it's bad business to not give it time to at least develop an audience. So, what's new another tragedy perpetuated by the Network idiots.
Long before "Larry Sanders", this series took a look at what goes on during and behind the scenes at a talk show. This is Dabney Coleman at his best. His portrayal of the philanderer Bill Bittinger is brilliant. And Joanna Cassidy is wonderful as JoJo, his on-again, off-again romantic interest. After all these years, I still consider this to be one of the funniest shows I've ever seen. It's a shame that few people have seen it.
This was a terribly funny corruscating comedy centered upon a loathsome
boss at work. The show was consistently surprising - fast-moving with
real bite. I loved it - it's a shame it was taken off the air so soon.
I'd love to see a DVD of the episodes.
Dabney Coleman can deliver terribly funny terribly unprofessional lines better than any actor I know - the striking thing is that they seem so natural to the character he plays. Joanna was a perfect foil.
The series was just perfect - but not promoted well enough before it was cancelled to build up a head of steam among the audience.
Come to think of it, they could just put the series on again today - Coleman is very much still around. It would be loved.
A nasty, mean-spirited, and duplicitous lead character (Dabney Coleman) made
for a comedy series that is always outrageous. And very, very funny.
When Dabney got too ornery, the series could always shift its focus to his co-star, Joanna Cassidy, cool on the surface, hot underneath.
Dabney's later series, "The Slap Maxwell Story", was the same idea, only his character had been defanged, and the venom removed for safety.
Only once in a while does a show this clever come along. Buffalo Bill
Bittiner (Dabney Coleman) is an arrogant, self-centered, misogynistic
pig, who hosts a low budget local talk show in Buffalo, NY. While the
concept of an off-color comedy based on such a vile character will not
appeal to all audiences, this show had many layers, and was very well
written and executed. On the surface, the show focused on the
offensive, yet hilarious, antics of Dabney's character, but below the
surface is an insecure, paranoid, confused, and cowardly train wreck of
a man -- not that one should feel sorry for him. Bill Bittiner may
think his "assertive" antics conceal his flaws and insecurities from
his co-workers and talk show audience, but these antics are transparent
to everyone but Bill, and only added comedic and ironic flavor to the
Not only was Dabney Coleman brilliant in this role, but so was his supporting cast. His research assistant was played by a young Geena Davis, his faithful stage hand by the late John Fiedler (the voice of Piglet), and his makeup man was played by Charles Robinson, who later directed Night Court. There were also a number of notable guest appearances such as: Oscar winner Martin Landau, comedian Julie Brown, and an uncredited appearance by Jim Carrey. Most of the show focused on Bill Bittinger's antics, but there were also some genuine moments and meaningful side-skits acted out by Coleman's diverse cast of supporting characters.
This show did not do so well in prime time, and I was very disappointed to see it canceled.. I suspect that too many viewers found Coleman's character too much to bear, even if taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, I was thrilled when I found out that the complete series was released on DVD, even though it took 20 years.
Imagine that "The Dick Van Dyke Show" had centered on Carl Reiner's
Alan Brady character and you will have a pretty good handle on Dabney
Coleman's "Buffalo Bill" series.
Despite the many conspiracy theories there is little actual mystery regarding the early cancellation of Coleman's series; it simply failed to find an audience large enough to sustain it. Awards and critical acclaim won't take a show very far; especially back in the days when the three networks were pulling in the vast majority of television viewers.
If a quality show is a little different (insert "The Big Bang Theory" here) it will start slow and must show "steady" progress toward building a larger viewing audience. The progress only happens if it "holds" onto its initial group of viewers while adding new viewers each week that it is broadcast. Generally this only works if the show has figured out what it wants to be and consistently delivers a weekly product. Once firmly established a show has the luxury of an occasional clinker episode.
Unfortunately, "Buffalo Bill" was perhaps the most inconsistent series in the history of television. I hung with it throughout its entire broadcast run and was amazed by the wild swings from week-to-week. Episode 7 "Guess Who's Coming To Buffalo?" was an absolute gem, and several other episodes were equally inspired; but you never quite knew what you would get. Friends could be talked into one viewing. If it happened to be the right episode they would be hooked. If they saw a dog episode they would never watch again.
The cast was rarely the problem, although someone should have figured out that the best moments seemed to come when Dabney Coleman and Pippa Peartree were interacting as father and wayward daughter. These provided an amazing mix of comedy and poignancy; yet they were far too few. Contrast them with the much more frequent stuff involving Charles Robinson's Newdell, which was generally awkward and forced; both the writing and the execution. You don't have to look further than decisions like this to see that the producers had some serious "don't have a clue" moments.
The self-absorbed title character was often the source of the ratings-killing inconsistency. The humorous moments came from his exaggerated character flaws; imagine a self-promoting version of Sheldon Cooper. The "wheels fall off" moments were typically those showcasing his unlikely need for the approval of others; they could never quite settle on just who Bill was. The more his character wobbled between extremes of selfishness and vulnerability the harder it was take vicarious pleasure in his antics.
The uniqueness of the series was in its attempt to integrate comedy with serious subjects. Too often this crossed the line into overwrought melodrama. But when they got the balance right it worked as well as anything that has ever been on network television.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
After a wait of 20 years I was finally able to obtain the 3 disc set of
Buffalo Bill, a favorite of mine from the 80's. Watching it again only
underscores my fond memories of classic leading edge humor on TV and I
recommend it to all who appreciate extraordinary quality. The writing
and cast selection defy criticism as each actor was perfect in their
part-----many have gone on to even greater successes.
Cancellation of the series absolutely defied logic as it was a clear winner. Kudos to all associated with the production----a true classic to make all very proud. Thanks for a great job!!!
Bob Schoenberg, Brewster, NY
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It might help to give a little background,in order to explain my
I happen to have been a real male chauvinist,who's been working on this particular part of my life.It's taken years in psychotherapy,both individual and group,to try to eliminate,remove,and/or minimize,that aspect of my personality.It's not something that I'm at all proud of,yet,in total honesty,it IS a part of me.
Male chauvinists,like compulsive womanizers,really don't like women.each and every one has to examine his own reasons as to why.But,again,they really don't like,and,in many cases,actively dislike women.
I always became very uncomfortable watching this program,and,couldn't't,for the life of me,figure out why.But,now,I do.It reminded me of myself,if not in behavior,then,in attitude.
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