Tomorrow morning we will kick off our last TV draft round! We have 8 more TV Shows coming…we all want to thank you… the readers who have made this possible and a fun experience.
I also want to thank the bloggers who have reviewed all of these shows and we have covered every decade from the 1950s until now. Below are the picks that began in January and will end on July 3.
Thank you… Paula, Lisa, Dave, John, Keith, Mike, Liam, Vic, Hanspostcard (who started it), and Kirk for all of the reviews below.
Today I’ll take “Great TV Shows” for $400. As you might have guessed the answer, and my next show to cover for this event, is Jeopardy!
Jeopardy! is a show so familiar it seems to hardly need any description. After all, it’s been around longer than many of its contestants, and longer than I (or many of the other columnists taking part here) have been. It’s been parodied on Saturday Night Live, sung about jokingly by Weird Al Yankovic and plays a part in the plot of Groundhog Day. Few and far between are those of us who’ve not at least seen part of an episode in passing somewhere along the line. Such an iconic part of the culture it’s become that even the opening theme with booming introduction – “this is JEOPARDY!” – is instantly identifiable by most. But that aside, let’s look at the show a little anyway.
Jeopardy! Is a long-running game show, in which three contestants play against each other trying to answer questions correctly to win. Or actually, answer “answers”…we’ll get to that. How long-running? It premiered in 1964, and has been running most of the time since, although in slightly different formats and shown on different providers. The current version has been running daily since 1984. Merv Griffin created it and also created the similarly-popular Wheel of Fortune which not coincidentally often runs right before or after Jeopardy! in many markets. Although he’s credited with creating it, and his name appears on the credits day after day, he credits his wife with being the one who had the basic idea.
Back around the end of 1963, he and his wife were sitting around, talking about his desire to create a game show for TV. She commented that quiz shows were popular and quite good, but there hadn’t been any since the 1958 “Game Show Scandal”, in which it was found certain contestants on the shows Dotto and Twenty-one had been given the answers so the producers could control who would win and come back, based on who they felt would be most popular with their viewers rather than their skill or even luck. The game idea was still good, but the concept had been tarnished. They wagered almost six years was enough time passed to give it another go. She then suggested the twist – why not give answers and have contestants guess the question. Merv recalled “she fired a couple of answers at me – ‘5280’ – and the question of course would be ‘how many feet in one mile?’” He liked it and quickly took the idea to NBC, who bought it sight unseen.
NBC ran it, filming in New York, weekdays from 1964 through ’75, and added a nighttime weekly version which they syndicated in 1974. All the time, Art Fleming was the host who introduced the contestants and asked the, err “answers.” It had finally run its course by summer ’75, but they resurrected it again for the ’78-79 season, again with Fleming at the helm in the Big Apple. That lasted just one season, but it didn’t stay gone too long. In 1984, a new version began, running daily (five days a week), still produced by Griffin’s company, but this time shot in L.A. and sold for syndication. It wasn’t exclusive to one network, but most local stations in the U.S. had an hour of free time to program what they wanted between the evening news and “primetime shows”, so in the vast majority of cities, (as well as in Canada), one station or another ran Jeopardy! The basic show was still the same, but this time there was a new host – big-haired, moustached Alex Trebek, a Canadian with limited experience as a game show host but a personality that fit.
In case you’ve not seen it, the game is broken into three parts, “Jeopardy”, “Double Jeopardy” and “Final Jeopardy.” The first two take up most of the show, and consist of contestants picking mystery questions (or “answers”) from a board, which is made up of a grid of 30 boxes. There are six categories, and five question/answers in each. Each one is worth a certain value, in the first round being $200, 400, 600, 800 and 1000 and in “double Jeopardy” , you guessed it, double that amount. (If you didn’t guess it, you might not quite be Jeopardy! material.) Players who buzzed in first and gave the correct response for each won that amount of money…but if they were wrong, the amount was subtracted from their score. So it paid to be quick on the buzzer…and sure of your knowledge of the category. “Final Jeopardy” consisted of one answer all three would be given and had to answer (with the question) in 30 seconds. They could wager any or all of the amount of money they’d accrued so far in the game, and like the earlier bits, they’d win it if they were right, but lose it if wrong. Put together a run of correct answers and a bit of moxie in “Final Jeopardy” and you can do very well – James Holzhauer won a record $131127 in a 2019 episode. The game winner went home with that money, and got invited back to play the next day, whereas the second and third place finishers got a small consolation prize – typically $1000 and $2000 , which some bitterly noted didn’t pay their costs to actually go to L.A. and pay for a hotel … the show doesn’t pay expenses.
The game demands quick reflexes and a good, wide-ranging knowledge of…well, the more the better. While Art Fleming has criticized the “new” version (new as in the past 38 years), for being “dumbed down” by Hollywood, and it is true there are often some questions about pop culture, there are also still more about things like ancient history or American geography. Esquire tabulated many years of shows and found the most frequently-used categories were “Before and After”, “Literature”, “Science” , “Word Origins” and “American History” while the most-used ones for Final Jeopardy are “American Presidents” and “Word Origins.” Readers Digest compiled the ten that seemed to be hardest for contestants, and they included “Classical Music”,and “Canadian Cities” (sample : “Residents of this Saskatchewan city are called ‘Moose Javians’” , for question “What is Moose Jaw?”) . But it wasn’t only Canadian geography the mostly-American contestants had trouble with; so too did their own American because “States that Flow Together” also made the difficult list. That one had two states, with the last letter of one being the first of the next. Somehow no one could figure out “MissourI and Illinois” for the clue “one has St. Louis, the other has East St. Louis!” Of course, sometimes they like to have a little fun too, and at times the categories seem a little loopy – “Superb Owl” (all about owls on , yes Super Bowl week); “Songs for Your Cat,” “Hertz so Good” (about electricity)…
The show seems to hit the sweet spot between being so esoteric it requires a phD and so simple or celebrity-based anyone who watches Entertainment Tonight could run the board. Similarly, Alex Trebek hit the perfect spot as the host (for over 8000 episodes from ’84 until his death late in 2020; the final one he made aired in January ’21; until the final days of his illness he missed just one show…an April 1 edition where he traded places with Wheel of Fortune‘s Pat Sajak as an April Fool’s joke); warm and fatherly enough, with just enough self-deprecating humor to balance his occasional raised eyebrow and seeming hint of condescension when dealing with less-than-swift contestants. He won seven Emmys for it and became a household name and beloved celebrity; so much so that just who was going to replace him became headline news for months. So far, the answer appears to be Ken Jennings, who along with Big Bang Theory-alum Mayim Bialik have hosted the vast majority of post-Trebek shows. Jennings is an obvious choice, himself being the most famous, and by some accouts, most successful contestant ever on Jeopardy! Jennings won 74-straight shows in 2004, winning over $2.5 million and later won $1 million more on a “Greatest of All Time” tournament between past big winners. (From time to time, they have special tournaments, like ones for college students and “Celebrity Jeopardy!” where stars – mainly actors, but some athletes, writers, even politicians – try to win money for charity. Takeaway from those – no wonder Stephen King can cram so many details into his novels. The man seems to know everything!) Jennings turned his run on Jeopardy! Into several books, online and magazine columns and a rare level of celebrity based on…just being pretty darn smart!
The hype, for lack of a better word, surrounding Trebek’s unfortunate demise (losing a long battle to cancer) and picking his replacement has only helped Jeopardy! Its ratings have risen of late, with some of Trebek’s final episodes being watched by over 14 million at time or airing and many more later on streaming services; Entertainment Weekly reported this year that it currently is the most-watched “regular” TV show based on viewers watching it live…an amazing feat for a game show which through syndication doesn’t even necessarily play in every market. Maybe it’s Trebek and Ken Jennings, or maybe I hold out hope, it’s something different. At a time when everything seems to be being dumbed down from our news to our movies to our elected officials, maybe some of us are appreciating a show where it actually pays to be smart… to know a little about the Nile River or European history or great American literature.
Jeopardy! is a show I’ve enjoyed now and then since I was a kid and Trebek was young and had a huge Afro. As I got older and Trebek’s facial hair shrank, I actually found myself watching more, playing along. It was also one of the few shows my parents were both fond of too; my Mom sometimes would phone me up and ask in exasperation “did you see Final Jeopardy? How did they not know Dickens was the answer!!” or the like; when I spent about half a year living with my Dad as he got on in years, it became nearly a nightly routine for us to go down to the basement after dinner and watch Jeopardy!, trying to shout out the answers fastest. He never did well if it was about Lady Gaga or baseball, but he could rock the history and current events categories. Needless to say, I miss both my parents, and also Alex Trebek but I’m pretty glad I can still try to fit a bit of Jeopardy! in to the routine still and learn a little something with it. Memorable contestants, every topic under the sun, learning while playing… what is “great game show” Merv?
For my next pick in this TV event, I go to a show that always made me laugh hysterically…and make me feel a bit proud. SCTV was not only one of the funniest and most creative shows of its era, it was Canadian to boot.
SCTV stands for “Second City Television”, because it sprung forth from Second City. That was (and remains to this day) a ground-breaking comedy troupe and theater from Chicage (America’s “Second City”). It opened its doors in 1959, and by 1961 was making stars out of people like Joan Rivers and Alan Arkin with their creative comedy sketches. But instead of just playing their home city, the organization had big dreams – ones they’ve fulfilled as they describe themselves as “the most influential and prolific comedy empire in the world.” They began touring with their show and found an enthusiastic response in Toronto when they played there in 1963. Second City took note, and ten years later opened a second club there, in its early months “no air conditioning, no liquor license and almost no audience.” That quickly changed though as they moved to a bigger venue and found homegrown wits like Catherine O’Hara, Dave Thomas and John Candy.
Only a couple of years in, there was interest in making it into a TV show. Once the idea was hatched to do a show about “the world’s smallest TV station”, the cast was on board. They saw endless possibilities of skits involving actual TV shows they could satirize, goofy commercials and behind-the-scenes follies involving the fictional station’s management. Global TV (a Canadian network) was interested and put them on air in 1976, with a half-hour show. After a couple of years, they canceled it but soon an independent company in Edmonton bought the idea, moved the players to the Prairies and resurrected it, soon selling the show to Canada’s premier network, CBC. A few stations in the U.S. began running re-runs, and soon NBC came knocking, wanting a replacement for the Midnight Special. They ran it for a couple of years as a 90-minute late night show (rather akin to Saturday Night Live) but were said to be rather lacking in commitment to it, and after two seasons axed it when the crew refused to re-jig the show to run on Sunday evenings against 60 Minutes. (NBC also wanted it made much more G-rated, family-oriented humor rather than the edgy satire they SCTV was making.) At that time Cinemax cable in the U.S. and a Canadian subsidiary revived it for one final season of 45 minute shows. By 1984 when it wrapped up, they’d made 135 episodes of varying length and production quality…and created both some big-name stars and some entirely memorable characters.
SCTV‘s original cast was largely kept in tact through the years and was a goldmine of comic talent. They were essentiallly unknown then but wouldn’t stay that for long. Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, John Candy, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, Joe Flaherty, Harold Ramis… funny each one in their own right but brilliant together in an ensemble. Of them, only Ramis was brought in from American Second City; Moranis came in directly from a background of being a radio DJ in Toronto! We see their ongoing work in so many great comedy films like Home Alone, Ghostbusters, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Splash and TV shows like Schitt’s Creek. In terms of launching great careers in comedy, it’s probably second only to Saturday Night Live…and that one has had an advantage of 40 more years of talent to be culled from.
That alone made the show noteworthy, but it was great because of the strength of the shows themselves and the sketches they created. The station which was set in the imaginary town of Melonville was run by Guy Caballero, a boss played by Joe Flaherty, whose character was as shady as his suit was blinding white. Guy was confined to a wheelchair… but quick to jump up and run away when threatened. His station was inhabited by regulars like boozy, washed up playboy-type Johnny LaRue (Candy), and the owner, leopard-print clad cougar Edith Prickley (Martin), and the hapless local news team of dim-witted Earl Camembert (Levy) and hard-nosed Floyd Robertson (Flaherty). Between the workplace bits we got to see the fine programming of SCTV…things like Bill Needle’s ascerbic talk show, Count Floyd’s “Monster Horror Chiller Theater” (which sometimes boasted titles like the “3D House of Cats”… you simply had to see it to appreciate the “3D” effect!) , kids show “Mrs Falbo’s Tiny town” and various movies, usually parodies of real hit ones. And in between we’d get commercials for local businesses like Harry, the Guy with the Snake on His Face and his adult video store. Like the Simpsons later, the shows were funny enough at face value but took on an added level of hilarity when one was wise to exactly what they were spoofing.
About 40 years has passed since it went off the air, but even the thought of things like the opening scene of “Mrs. Falbo’s Tiny Town” (remember her trying to drive?), Flaherty as Count Floyd (the frustrated late night movie host dressed as a vampire who often had to admit, “well that wasn’t very scary, kids…”) John Candy as Paul Fistinyourface, the angry high school teen on the TV dance show or as Gil Fisher “The Fishin’ Musician” crack me up. Speaking of the last, “The Fishin’ Musician” with Candy as Gil, the fisherman with his guide Ol’ Willie (who looked a lot like Willie Nelson and took the fishing boat ‘out into the weeds’ every time, natch) was their way of allowing for musical numbers. Through the years bands like Rough Trade, The Tubes and Boomtown Rats went fishin’ with Gil…and playing a little number or two. In retrospect, years later it became even funnier seeing Bob Geldof as a disgruntled punker with the Boomtown Rats and acting as a high school tough in their parody of To Sir with Love , “Teacher’s Pet” (with Eugene Levy as Ricardo Montalban, an ongoing spoof on the show, being the Corinthian lether-loving teacher).
It was a different kind of humor, probably ahead of its time and perhaps to Americans, a wee bit odd. I’m frequently told, living in the U.S., that I have a different sense of humor than many Americans; I think Canada is a cultural “bridge” between the States and Britain, and that applies to our comic sensibilites too. SCTV found the happy medium to be edgy for the mainstream but not so much so as to be confounding or alienating. All that said, ironically, the ongoing skit on SCTV I found the most tiresome was the one that was probably it’s most popular and the one which reveled in its Canadianism – Bob and Doug McKenzie and the “Great White North.” But no one hits it out of the park every time…SCTV is remembered because it did more often than not. When a show of largely social satire from four decades back can still make me fall on the floor laughing, they must have been something special. And they were.
Illusionist David Copperfield once made the Statue of Liberty seem to disappear in front of a live audience. Perhaps I should give him a call and see if he could make a terrific TV show reappear.
In this day and age of bargain-priced DVD sets of just about everything ever to grace or disgrace the boob tube screen, cable networks galore and a new streaming service every week offering up even old chestnuts like Green Acres and Dad’s Army for insomniac subscribers, you’d think a hit show from this century would be easy to find. Hard to avoid even, perhaps. Particularly if it starred one of the leads in one of this decade’s most popular shows, was created by TV “royalty” and kicked off the careers of a couple of movie stars plus the star of the most popular sitcom going these days. Sadly you’d be wrong.
Despite having Modern Family‘s “Claire’ (Julie Bowen) as the female lead, being the first place anyone saw Jim Parsons (now Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory) or Justin Long on the screen, despite being a product of David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants, and having the Foo Fighters do the theme song, Ed has become a ghost. TV’s equivalent of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker – well-loved but known these days only through rumors, memories of old-timers and grainy photos. That bugged me back in 2005 after it ended; it bugs me more now. It was one of the few shows of that era that I made a point of watching every week …ironically until the finale, on a night in which I was working and …yes, my VCR malfunctioned!!
Ed (not to be confused with the similarly-titled movie, Ed TV) was a rather brilliant but hard to define show that ran for 83 episodes from 2000 through early 2004 on NBC. It was a dramedy before that term – or genre- was well-known. A drama with a sense of humor; a comedy that at times could be heart-wrenching at times. Lovable, Relatable. Quirky as Seinfeld but a version where the characters weren’t obnoxiously self-absorbed and were dropped into a small town. It was also could be seen as something of a male bookkend to The Gilmore Girls which debuted the same autumn. Just like Ed, Lorelei and Rory, those Gilmore Girls had oddball small-towners to contend with, lots of music and main characters looking for love. Unlike Ed, however, The Gilmore Girls live on in Walmart discount video bins, Sunday afternoon reruns and most notably, in a limited four-episode resurrection from Netflix. All accomplished while averaging only a little over half the number of viewers as Ed scored in its first run. The TV gods aren’t always fair.
Ed was several shows in one really, a somewhat risky proposition for TV of the day. Romance, workplace dramas, lightweight legal eagles. Sounds messy, yet it worked. Wonderfully.
The central story was based on Ed Stevens (played by the affable Canadian actor Tom Cavanagh, little known outside of his homeland at the time. In Canada he starred in a series of popular Labatt beer ads in the ’90s) and his search for love. Ed was a big money, big city lawyer, we’re told, who had one bad day. A missed comma in a business contract cost his firm millions and led to him being fired. When he returned home early after being sacked, he found his pretty wife in bed with a stranger. Ed decides he’s had enough of that life, and – cue the TV show’s beginning – returns to his hometown, Stuckeyville, a smallish town in Ohio stuck in a Frank Capra movie.
Having tasted a good deal of failure in his life, but also some success after his school days, he decides to look up his high school crush, Carol (played by Bowen.) He falls back in love with her and spends four seasons wooing her with up-and-down results and the sexual chemistry of David and Maddie from Moonlighting…another show someone should cover here, by the way!
Of course, just as in real life, there was more to both their lives than their oft-thwarted attraction to each other. Ed needs to do something to keep busy and as he’s a lawyer, he goes into practise in Stuckeyville. But instead of working on behalf of big business, as in his past life, he looks after the town’s good people … the gal being sued by her lecherous used car dealer boss for back wages after she turns down his advances; the beloved Stuckeyville Stan, magician whose tricks are being explained to the town by a malicious rival… even Carol’s boyfriend (played by a pre-Mad Men John Slattery) when the rival was falsely accused of causing a car crash. In short, the good guy everyone loves. Oh, and since he liked bowling, he decided to buy the town bowling alley and work from there!
Stuckeybowl offered up its own storylines and weird but pleasant characters and stories, most notably the good-hearted Phil, (Michael Ian Black), the highly ambitious but quite so clever manager. Kind of like a slightly less obnoxious and better coiffed Kramer, Phil always seemed to have plans which were big on dreaming but not quite so much on practicality. He of course tested Ed’s patience but the lawyer grinned and bore it, being far too nice to fire people.
Carol had become a school teacher since Ed left town, and the other half of the story involved her work and the high schoolers she taught, as well as her co-workers, including her best friend Molly and in the first couple of years, Slattery as the principal and her beau. Two of the high schoolers are Warren and Diane, high school nerds played by Justin Long (before the Apple ads) and Ginnifer Goodwin, some nine years before they sizzled together in He’s Just Not That Into You. Warren has a thing for Carol, which frustrates Ed, but doesn’t stop him from trying to help the youth find his way … and see that his soulmate is his classmate, Diane.
And of course, Ed has a school buddy too – Mike. Mike is now married and a young doctor struggling to win respect from the townspeople and the crusty old doctor, Dr. Jerome whom we always expect to prescribe leeches or bloodletting. Of course the old goat gets Mike’s goat… while quietly admiring and pushing the young one to be the best he can be.
Mike and Ed hang out together and relive their youth, often with a running series of “ten dollar bets” in which one bets the other ten bucks to do something crazy. Mike bets Ed he can’t meow loud enough in a park to make a stranger turn around, bets Ed he won’t play “It’s Raining Men” on his bowling alley jukebox on a busy night and so on. Ed inevitably is not one to turn down a challenge. At the end of the day, they all tend to hang out in the neighborhood pub, The Smiling Goat, rather like the characters in How I Met Your Mother socialized at their bar, albeit with a lot less intoxication in Stuckeyville. Oh, and yep, …Mother‘s Neil Patrick Harris showed up on Ed too, as a competing bowling alley lawyer. Jim Parsons, Rena Sofer and Kelly Ripa all made appearances before becoming household names.
For all the laughs and romance, from time to time the show broached serious material. Perhaps a decade before it became trendy or even polite, it dealt with obesity with sensitivity, with Carol’s friend Molly (Jana Marie Hupp) being a little curvier than most and at times fighting prejudices because of it. Then there was Mark, a school kid who was largely unpopular and always self-conscious because of his own more-than-ample weight, leading him to consider gastric bypass surgery (which the actor, Michael Genadry had in real life.) Fast forward to today when This Is Us is called “brave” and ground-breaking for having plus-sized Chrissy Metz as one of its stars.
Critics adored Ed. I did too. I’d happily buy a box set of it on DVD… were such a thing available.
The rest of the public liked it, but not as much as the critics and I. It typically ranked in the middle of the ratings, with an average of between 10 million (in its first season, when it was in an unfavorable Sunday night slot against The Simpsons and Touched by an Angel) and 8 million in its last few months. It bears mentioning that if a show had those numbers these days, it would be a blockbuster hit. The aforementioned This Is Us averaged 5.4 million viewers at its peak, according to Nielsen, about the same as the apparent breakout hit of the decade, Black-ish. Even stalwards like Grey’s Anatomy dip below 10 million some weeks.
All of which might make its cancelation marginally understandable …after all, how many quirky characters can one small town offer up, and sooner or later we knew Ed and Carol had to figure out what we all knew – that they belonged together. What makes no sense is that the show has disappeared into the ether in a time when almost every program ever made is available in any number of formats.
Fans and creators Rob Burnett (formerly the head writer at Letterman) and Jon Beckerman have constantly been reported as disappointed to quite pissed off the show hasn’t made it onto the DVD shelves or Netflix playlist yet. We’re told problems with doing so abound, owing to the show’s unusual production (David Letterman’s company, NBC and Viacom were all part-owners and distributors creating some problems on figuring out the copyright, costs and revenue-sharing) and with another one of the show’s appealing features – the music. It seemed there was always music playing on the show. In the bowling alley, in the cars, in the bar… even background music to serious walks in the snow to think! A number of great tunes, largely ’90’s alt rock ones but including at time everything from classic rock to old fashioned torch songs, appeared in the show. I used to try and track the songs episode by episode. It was a chore! From K’s Choice to Weezer to the theme by the Foo Fighters…even a big set with a song by Toronto’s Blue Rodeo (there were a few nods to Cavanaugh’s real-life Canadian background, including him drinking the Labatt’s beer he once pitched at his bar) . It made the show as good-sounding as it was looking. But…, all that music, as the creators of WKRP In Cincinnati likewise found out, makes the legal work more difficult. Every musician or publisher needs to be individually negotiated with in terms of future royalties, which is why a lot of non-descript elevator music appears in WKRP videos instead of the old Foreigner, Earth Wind and Fire and Stones stuff you might have remembered hearing Johnny and Venus spin. So far, no one’s seemed to find it worth trying to do the paperwork and make all those calls to have it happen and from what I understand, the music in the bar and the bowling alley wasn’t an overdub…it was actually being played on the set while they filmed, making covering it up much more difficult.
Whatever the reason, I wish they could put the differences aside and sign some papers and bring back Ed for those of us who remember it fondly. The sweet, gentle comedy was especially refreshing by the second season when the world was thrown into disarray (the season premiere was scheduled for Sep. 12, 2001 and was pushed back by three weeks by… well, you remember) . Its light-heartedness and big-hearted message seems needed and once more. Paging David Copperfield… or maybe Viacom and NBC should go bowl a few frames and get a certain small town lawyer to draw up the papers.
Although Ed is still unavailable streaming or on DVD , I do see that a number of episodes of it have appeared on You Tube recently. I haven’t yet checked them out, so I can’t attest to how high the quality of picture or sound is, but it gives me some encouragement that the show may not be lost entirely now.
TV shows are of course, first and foremost entertainment. But once in awhile they rise above just that and can actually create change for the better. Maybe even save lives. Recently, I’ve rediscovered one such show… and a lot of memories from my childhood!
Over-the-air station COZI-TV shows nothing but oldies. It’s the television version of a Golden Oldies radio station. Andy Griffin, Magnum PI, MASH… they’re all there. And recently, a fave of eight, nine-year old me, Emergency.
Emergency was the brainchild of Jack Webb, no surprise to those who had watched his earlier show, Adam 12, picked earlier in this by Max. The two had a similar overall feel and they even showed up in cameos on each other’s shows occasionally. While Adam 12 showed the day-to-day routines of two L.A. cops, Emergency dealt with an L.A. fire station, the goings on within it and on their runs. In particular, the show which ran on NBC from 1972-77 (plus six made for TV movies through 1979) focused on two paramedics who although firemen, responded to medical calls and were trained in medical care. Roy Desoto (actor Kevin Tighe) was the blonde, easy-going one while his partner who set many a lady’s heart a-flutter (and would later be immortalized in a Tubes song) was John Gage, played by dark and oft-brooding Randolph Mantooth. The rest of the firemen on their shift at “Station 51”, as well as the doctors and nurses of the local hospital ER were supporting characters. Those included real-life husband and wife Bobby Troup and Julie London, both of whom had music careers as well as acting ones; they portrayed the senior doctor (Dr. Early) and head nurse (Dixie) at the local ER the rescue squad took patients to. The plot outline was not unlike Adam 12, with its two patrol car cop buddies who spend a lot of time discussing life and responding to nuisance calls interspersed with a few high-tension emergency calls.
On Emergency, we follow along with John and Roy as they deal with mundane, everyday issues like John’s insomnia or Roy’s wondering about where to take his kids on holiday, interspersed with a few siren-screaming runs to heart attacks and snakebites, and fewer still infernos to respond to and help people survive. It really gave a feel for what it was like to be responding to a factory on fire, or trying to resuce people stuck in a car that was at the bottom of a cliff, or be surrounded by huge wildfires the whole department was trying to contain. Of course, like Adam 12, it was full of afros, moustaches and conservative morality… youth smoking “grass” laced with pesticides freaked out and confounded doctors with their life-threatening illnesses; doctors jumped in to keep lying parents from their frightened and bruised children while doling out counseling about dealing with stress. (It did, however, coming a bit later than Adam 12, miss out on stripy bell-bottom fashion and bad guys who said things like “you’re a jive cop!” or “say your prayers… I’m gonna send you to pig heaven, copper!”)
Part drama, part light-comedy, mixed with a small amount of action… it’s a far reach from the action shows and movies that are in favor now. But somehow, it worked. We cared about the characters lives… and learned.
Emergency was made by sticklers for detail. Mantooth said “Bob Cinader, who (co) created and produced the show said ‘we’re not going to make anything up. We have to get all the rescues from real fireman’s logs.” Mantooth and Tighe both took real paramedic courses, although they didn’t take the tests to be certified as such, and rode along with real L.A. firemen extensively. The exterior shots used a real L.A. fire station (Station 127 in Carson) and a real hospital nearby. Producers got to borrow an authentic L.A. pumper truck ( the Engine 51 in the show) and apparently, on a few shots forgot to relabel it as such, meaning the eagle-eyed viewer could sometimes see Station 51 responding in a differently-numbered truck. Driven by an actor, Dick Hammer, who played… Dick Hammer. You see, Hammer not only used his real name, he played his own role in real life – he was an actual L.A. fireman, thus having fire training and a license to drive the large vehicles. They opted for realism, which certainly helped us believe the episodes and feel engaged.
Roy and John, the paramedics, went to their medical calls in a modified pickup with all sorts of medical supplies, and radios to the hospital. Since they had medical training, they could undertake medical procedures like give IVs or CPR with the doctor’s instructions over the radio. At the time, the paramedic trucks were new and few and far between, so L.A. couldn’t loan them one. Thus the show got the blueprints and built an authentic replica themselves, and stocked it with the real equipment the true first responders used in the day.
It was interesting. It gave us a look at the ordinary work of fire-fighters and paramedics and some of the crazy calls they had to deal with. And in a small way, it changed the world.
Not only did Emergency pave the way for later, more action-packed shows like E.R. and Station 19, it changed society as well.
ME TV point out that when the show first aired, there were only 12 – one dozen – fire departments with paramedics in the entire country. (I was surprised to read that my particular hometown in Canada was the very first in that country to have paramedics in their fire department, that being in 1971). Then California governor Ronald Reagan had only signed legislation allowing for firemen to be trained as paramedics the previous year and L.A., Seattle and Miami were the only notable large urban areas in the U.S. with them at the time. What’s more, ambulances were largely nothing more than taxis for sick and injured people. The personnel on them did little besides get the patient to doctors and help down the road. By the end of the show in mid-’77, fully half of all Americans were within 10 minutes of responding fully-trained paramedics. Lives were saved…. and one has to imagine that Emergency was behind it. It’s hard to innumerate, but oral history suggests a lot of fire departments and city councils got on board to train their firemen and supply them with medical gear when people started wanting their town to have its own John Gage, Roy Desoto and Squad 51. A University of Baltimore study says “ample evidence suggests a conclusion that the TV show was a primary factor that fueled…paramedic training.” EMS World call Randy Mantooth the “goodwill ambassador” for their profession and point out “for all the popularity of classic shows such as the Honeymooners and Gunsmoke, the number of people they inspired to become bus drivers or sheriffs was probably small.” Not so Emergency. Schools offering the training to be paramedics saw a surge of applicants shortly after the show premiered.
Pretty cool. A little bit campy, a little comic, a little bit educational. Bits of high excitement, and lots of cool retro vehicles and fashions. I still enjoy it. What’s more, it was a show that changed history and made life safer. And still is interesting to watch close to 50 years on. Methinks we’ll never be saying that about the Kardashians.
Welcome to the Hanspostcard TV Draft. The remaining 7 rounds will be posted here. I hope you will enjoy it! Today’s post was written byDave from https://soundday.wordpress.com/
Some of our other participants have picked highly excellent, but “boutique” shows. Ones which are brilliant, and critically-praised, but not hugely viewed, often due to appearing on pay cable stations or obscure streaming services. This is actually great because it’s giving some of us insight into shows we’ve heard about but not seen. But for my second pick, I’ll stick with the 1990s and stick with a show of mass appeal…more mass appeal now than back then, one might guess: Friends. It was a show I sometimes watched, and quite liked back in the day but have watched a good deal more and come to enjoy more in the years since it ended. (In that it was somewhat like one of its companion shows on NBC, Seinfeld, looked at by Music City Mike already.)
NBC’s Thursday night lineup in the ’90s was a TV equivalent to baseball’s ’61 Yankees… a seemingly unstoppable powerhouse that kept throwing superstar after superstar at you. By 1993, it was already a juggernaut in the ratings and with critics with the combo of Seinfeld and Frasier. But they needed something to keep the momentum throughout the night and had had some difficulty finding another prime-time comedy to keep viewers on the Peacock network. Enter Marta Kauffman and David Crane,a couple of, well, friends who were writers. Struggling ones at that.
“We wanted to write something we would watch,” Kauffman said. They were in their early-30s and Crane says “not long before, we’d been living in New York, not doing TV. We’d been living it.” So they set upon the idea of a group of people like themselves who were out on their own but single, starting to find their way in the world with little but their close friends to help them through.
They came up with the basic idea and a few test scripts and pitched it to Fox, who said “it’s funny, but it’s not Fox funny. Can you make it more adult?” Instead, they landed at NBC, who saw some potential with it. Which was prescient of them, since like so many shows, the pilot was…well, not great. It was OK, but only hinted at the depth of the characters and the laughs that it would soon create. It might have been unwatchable if Rachel had stayed the spoiled princess, Ross the always sadsack downer or Joey the macho stud. Happily the characters and dialog evolved and quickly found their stride only a few weeks in.
As most know, the show revolved around a main cast of six “friends”…an unusually large ensemble for a sitcom that didn’t have one main star, ala say Bill Cosby on his eponymous show. There were the guys – Joey, the proudly Italian ladies-man and struggling actor; Chandler, the sarcastic and oft-frustrated office “suit” and Ross, the nerdy and awkward professor – and the girls. They were Monica, Ross’ sister, a compulsive neat freak and talented cook; Phoebe, the artsy-fartsy ’60s throwback hippie singer, and Rachel, the rich fashionista cut off from her family money and learning life lessons. With a “heart of gold” would be a modifier applied to all six. Through ten seasons, 1994- 2004, and 236 episodes they struggled with ordinary problems like so many of their fans – finding romantic partners, or at least dates, getting a good job, trying to keep afloat financially, and the like. All the while talking a lot and hanging out at the Central Perk, a local coffee shop. (Jennfier Aniston, “Rachel” once commented that it would be impossible to set it in the present day because it would now just be six people sitting staring at their phones.) At times they’d fight, but in the end, like the famous Rembrandts theme song (“I’ll Be There For You”) suggests, they were always there for each other.
Time magazine noted “the well-hidden secret of the show was that it was called ‘Friends’ and was really about family.” Or to put it another way, that when you get to be an adult, your friends can be your family, the rock you can rely on. In that it rather duplicated Seinfeld, or Frasier’s predecessor, Cheers. And like those shows, a good deal of the appeal was how perfect the actors chosen were for the roles. Unlike those two, by a few episodes in you were always rooting for those characters. It seemed like lightning struck in the casting. The creators had written the Ross part specifically with David Schwimmer in mind… they actually figured he would be the break-out star of the series. The others all came about by chance. They envisioned Courteney Cox to be Rachel, not Monica, but she liked the other role better. They liked Jennifer Aniston, but she was under contract to another, thankfully short-lived show at the time so they figured she wouldn’t be available. She was. Nancy McKeon was their first choice for Monica, but that fell through, and so on and so on. Now it seems impossible to think of Monica being anyone but Courteney, or anyone but Matt Leblanc being Joey, etc. And Jennifer Aniston? So intertwined with her character was she that her haircut swept the nation and was called “the Rachel.”
All six of the characters were flawed, and often not good at their jobs. The only thing as bad as Phoebe’s singing might be Joey’s on-stage acting chops or Ross’ attempt to win over students by speaking in a fake British accent. But their flaws made them seem like people we all knew and loved…or maybe, like ourselves. As years went by, they became our friends. We wanted Joey to keep that role on Days of Our Lives, we wanted Chandler to find a way not to be transferred to Tulsa, and of course, we wanted Ross and Rachel to figure out that they were in love with each other and just get together! I mean, come on – Ross said Rachel’s name instead of the girl he was supposed to be marrying (Emily) during his wedding vows!
Interestingly, just before Season 8 was about to begin, the world was shaken by 9/11. This posed a dilemma for the series, set in Manhattan. They didn’t know how to approach it. Finally, NBC decided “9/11 did happen in the World of Friends, but it would be acknowledged only by visual clues”… Joey sometimes wore an “NYFD” t-shirt, newspapers appeared on tables, the etch-a-sketch on Joey and Chandler’s door had more patriotic images on it but “no one would want to see ‘the one with the terrorist attack.’” It hit the actors hard, like everybody else, and they had to reconcile their job with the reality of the world. Lisa Kudrow, “Phoebe,” said “we’re not curing cancer. It’s not a big deal. But you know what? When you can offer people a break from some such a devastating reality, that is a big deal.” Aniston echoed, “this was the one place in the world it was still OK to laugh.” It was a big deal. The show, already a top 10 ratings hit, became the most-watched on television that season (the last sitcom to earn that distinction) and won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy. The series finale, in which yes, Rachel didn’t get on the plane (and leave for France, rather, coming back to be with Ross) was the most-viewed regular TV episode of this century so far.
Like I said, I watched it at times then but appreciate it more now. Actually, thinking back, I was often too busy living my own version of Friends when it was on to tune in. Hanging out with buddies, looking for a lasting love, working late in the store, you name it. When I was fortunate enough to find my lasting love, it turned out Friends was one of her all-time favorite shows. She used to tell people back then not to call on Thursday until after 7:30 (it aired at 7PM in Central time, 8 in the East where I was watching) because she was tied up…with “friends”. We love watching reruns together, and when it left Netflix, I got her the set of DVDS. Or got us the set. I laugh at Ross’s consternation at his boss eating his Moist-maker sandwich or barista Gunther’s longing for Rachel (I guess I could relate to Gunther on that one!) as much as my sweetie does. If grilled cheese sandwiches might be a “comfort food”, Friends is “comfort watching” to us.
A couple of parting thoughts about Friends. First, to me it seems rather like most sitcoms these days have a tendency to copy it, but not as successfully. Groups of funny, inseparable friends. How I Met Your Mother… group of late-20-something friends who hang out together in a neighborhood bar and have little to do with their biological families. The at times cloying Big Bang Theory? Don’t get me started. Friends who are family to themselves, the nerdy professorial type destined to be with the super-sexy but sweet blonde (who like Rachel struggles as a waitress but finally finds success in a professional career), guys with no musical talent but abundant arrogance playing in the comic book store (much like both Ross and his keyboards and Phoebe’s bad songwriting)… they even stole the story of the male character who tried to get a spray on tan to impress a woman and ended up bright orange by accident.
And secondly, the show got back together in the right way. That is to say, by not regrouping. As much as they were being pressured to do a reunion, like so many other comedies from Will and Grace to Gilmore Girls had done, Friends decided to leave things as they were. There was the much-hyped reunion show last year,of course, but it was dealt with smartly… the six actors got back together and reminisced, showed a few classic clips and talked about what it was like back then. Brilliant restraint, because the magic of Friends was the characters remain forever young, and then left on high notes …they were happy, moving away from their New York apartment building to start new lives, full of love and optimism. Just as NBC realized we didn’t need “the one with the terrorist attack”, the cast understood we didn’t want “the one where Ross needs viagra now” or “the one with Gunther’s funeral.” They knew not to overstay their welcome, and leave us laughing.
Welcome to the Hanspostcard TV Draft. The remaining 8 rounds will be posted here. We will have 64 different TV Shows by 8 different writers. I hope you will enjoy it! Today’s post was written by Dave from https://soundday.wordpress.com/
First I’d like to thank Max for keeping this project running, and for inviting me to take part. There are so many good TV shows to choose from, it’s hard to know where to begin, but I’ll opt for one that seems to hit close to home for me (LOL – literally)… King of the Hill.
King of the Hill was a long-running animated prime-time cartoon that somehow had characters a lot more “real” than most of its contemporaries made with real actors. It ran on Fox Network for 259 episodes from 1997- 2010, and has been seen in re-runs in syndication and on some of the streaming services. I’m not a gigantic fan of Fox overall, but one thing they do well is cartoons!
It typically ran on Sunday nights after The Simpsons, – itself a hilarious and ground-breaking show – at 8:30 Eastern time. Fox seemed to clue in on how much of a good thing they had going with Sunday night cartoons aimed at adults and forever were searching for ones to lineup with their corporate flagship show and its yellow-skinned Springfielders. Some of them caught on (e.g. Family Guy or, though I can’t fathom why, Bob’s Burgers), others were come and gone faster than you could say “Eat my shorts” …anyone remember Border Town? Although a few of the post-Bart and Homer series might have now topped King of the Hill in episodes, I don’t think any have topped it for humor and creating characters we felt we could relate to. No wonder Time magazine once called it “the most acutely-observed and realistic sitcom about American life, bar none.” Perhaps all the more surprising since its main creator was Mike Judge, whose previous claim to fame was Beavis and Butthead.
King of the Hill revolved around Hank Hill and his family – wife Peggy, tween son Bobby and their dog, a lazy hound called Ladybird. And the niece who lived with them, to Hank’s mild disapproval, Luanne. They were a typical, middle-class Texan family living somewhere in the suburbs, in the city of “Arlen.” Hank sold propane, and propane products and was proud of it. Peggy was a substitute teacher, specializing in Spanish classes (although her knowledge of the language was barely functional) who loved Boggle and making green bean casseroles; a woman described as “confidant, sometimes to the point of lacking self-awareness.” Like most Texans, they loved things like rodeos, pickup trucks and Dallas Cowboys football – in one memorable episode Hank tries to get together a movement to move the Cowboys training camp to Arlen, but they pick Wichita Falls. To which Hank replies that city which claims to be “north Texas! More like south Oklahoma if you ask me!” a pretty stinging insult in the Lone Star State! Bobby, to his dad’s chagrin, is chubby, has little interest in sports and wants to be a stand-up comedian or worse yet, a clown.
Joining Hank is a supporting cast of neighbors we all seem to know in real life. There’s Bill, balding, overweight veteran who’s lonely and cuts hair on the nearby military base for income and amusement. Boomhauer, the suave, thin ladies man with the weird hillbilly accent who always seems to have female companionship and little to do outside of that but drink beer with the other guys and watch the world go by. (In the final episode’s surprise twist, we see his wallet lying open and find he’s a Texas Ranger – the elite branch of the state police.) And there’s Dale, a man ahead of his time. Chain-smoker, exterminator by day, full-time conspiracy theorist and paranoid political commentator at night. Somehow he’s married to the lovely Nancy, the local TV weather girl and they have a son, Joseph… who looks nothing at all like him nor the blonde Nancy…but suspiciously like John Redcorn, the Native “healer” who has been giving her lengthy massages for her migraines for years. Dale has trouble figuring out why Joseph looks like that…but thinks maybe his wife was abducted and impregnated by aliens. And we can’t forget Cotton, Hank’s cranky old father, lacking the bottom of his legs due to a war injury, nor the Khans. The Khans are from Laos, and while their daughter, Kahn Jr. (Connie to her friends) has assimilated well and is Bobby’s erstwhile girlfriend, and mother Mihn tries, Kahn Sr. fancies himself a successful businessman and can’t believe his bad luck landing up on a street full of hillbillies and rednecks. Somehow, the men all seem to get along and bond over things like appreciation of a good garbage can or love of (in Khan’s case, grudging acceptance of) Alamo Beer.
For the most part, the stories were fully relatable. They never starred in freaky Halloween episodes nor a big Broadway show (although ZZ Top did guest star once and put Hank unwillingly into a reality show following him around) or get abducted by aliens, perhaps to Dale’s surprise. Instead there were events like Hank trying to get the city to rescind it’s bylaw necessitating water-conserving toilets, or camping out in the local Megalomart with Dale (which bears a lot of resemblance to another American big box department store) trying to catch a rat. In one episode, Bobby gets picked on by bullies leading Hank to try to get the boy into a boxing class. Instead of that, Bobby ends up in a women’s self-defence course and learns to kick anyone he’s mad at in the testicles…Hank included. And one of the final episodes really amused me … I was born and raised near Toronto, if you didn’t know that already. In it, Boomhauer decides to take a vacation in Canada and temporarily trades houses with a Canadian family. Hank and the Canadian dad take an instant disliking to each other, with them competing over who brews the best beer and whose brand of lawn mower rules. End result? Both get arrested for DWI while mowing their lawns; Hank and his buddies eventually sell a “keginator” beer-pump to bail the Canuck out of jail, because that’s what neighbors do. “We’re Americans,” Hank declares “we’re the world’s welcome mat. It doesn’t matter if they’re from Canada, Laos, or God forbid, even California!”
The show had Greg Daniels co-writing early on, a good pedigree since he’d worked on Saturday Night Live, the Simpsons and co-wrote the Seinfeld episode “The Parking Space”… Music City Mike probably remembers that one. When it first came on, I liked it and often watched it, but it took years for it to really grow on me and come to appreciate how fully nuanced the characters were and how much attention to detail of human nature it showed…all the while being hilarious. There was a great sense of humanity in it all. People like Hank were trying their best, having a hard time keeping up with the changing times (he was the holdout on the office’s love of Facebook, for example) but doing his best to understand and be better. Nancy had her ongoing affair, but called it off eventually when she realized it was wrong to do to her husband, wacky as he was. And Luanne, sweet as pie and about as dumb as one too, with her little Christian puppets trying to teach kids right from wrong, boyfriend Lucky in tow. Lucky got his nickname when he slipped on pee at a Walmart and sued them for hundreds of thousands! (That makes watching it a tiny bit sad as both of the voice actors are gone – Brittany Murphy who did Luanne, and the one and only Tom Petty who was ‘Lucky’). They were all good people and the shows funny. But once I came to Texas…boy howdy, it took to another level for me.
Judge spent time in the Dallas Metroplex when young and said he based it on the suburbs like Arlington and Garland, Texas. Once I saw Waco, it seemed like Waco was Arlen…or vice versa. There are so many details that ring true like the Bush’s beans at dinner or love of Whataburger. When Peggy wants to have a serious talk with Bobby, she’ll treat him to one of those burgers…leading him to suspiciously note last time she took him there, she told him about Doggie Heaven!
I started this thinking I wouldn’t have enough to say about King of the Hill. Turns out I have too much to say for one column really. So one more thing – I just reminded myself how funny the show was. I think I’m going to go watch a few now!
Thanks to Max, aka “Badfinger” for giving me the chance to write something for his site today! He’s likewise written something cool about the band from which he took his screen-name, for my site, A Sound Day, (http://soundday.wordpress.com today) One of the best things about writing a blog, for about four years now, has been getting to know other bloggers with similar interests and read their posts. Of those, Badfinger has been a favorite of mine almost since I came to WordPress. I’m amazed that he and I are similar in age and have very similar tastes in music, and in baseball as well. So, needless to say he’s a pretty cool guy!
What I do at A Sound Day is post daily articles generally involving things which have happened on that calendar day in the world of music – album releases, records hitting #1, musicians having birthdays, that sort of thing. A simple enough idea, and one which I must admit wasn’t entirely original. A decade or so back, ex-Sex Pistol John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) ran a short syndicated radio bit called “A Rotten Day” which did the same basically, but in headline form delivered in his characteristically snarky persona. So, it’s not a unique idea, but I try to go beyond the headlines and tell a story. Make it interesting. For example, we pretty much all know the song “Midnight Train to Georgia”, but how many knew it was indirectly inspired by a Mississippi songwriter talking to Farrah Fawcett? Lots of us like London Calling, but do we know that the big hit single on it, “Train in Vain” wasn’t included on the track listing printed on the record because it wasn’t supposed to be on the album? How about an avant garde new wave rocker who has a successful second career writing books about archaeology? It’s the details that make the stories interesting and I try to find them… and remind people of some great music that they might have forgotten. Or introduce them to music I love that they might not have even heard. Grudgingly, I sometimes even cover music that, well, didn’t really get my motor running but was important in its own way, and try to listen to it with a fresh ear. If it was rock, or pop, or maybe even occasionally country, and it was from the ’60s to the end of the century, I’ve probably given it a look. That’s kind of an overview of what I do there, but let me tell you a bit about why.
Music has always been important to me. A big part of my memories… so much so that it can be an almost Rainman-like, frustrating ability. I can barely remember the names of my teachers or classmates from 1974, for example, but I can probably name two-thirds of the #1 songs of that year without ever looking to Google or Wiki. I couldn’t tell you the name of a girl I might have danced with at a junior high dance, but I can still recall the song was “Car Wash” by Rose Royce.
Mind you, there weren’t a lot of dances for young me. I was rather ill a lot of the time, and had by 1970s standards, a very over-protective mother…although by today’s standards, she was pretty lax. At least I walked or cycled to school myself instead of being driven to the door. But if it was raining, or cold, I probably wouldn’t be going out with friends to hang out on the weekend – “you’d get sick.” So I was home (with chain-smoking adults) and prone to lots of asthma attacks and bouts of pneumonia. Things like reading, looking outside at the birds coming to the feeder and music took on an import to me that many wouldn’t be able to relate to. Music especially.
Both my parents liked music, and every vague memory I have of being very young seems to have included music somewhere in the background. One of my first memories was listening to Sgt.Pepper and marveling in the weird but delightful sounds coming from the big wooden-cabinet stereo in the living room, while being dazzled by the funny-looking cover of the record. I can’t say whether it was my Mom or my brother who had the album… my Mom loved the Beatles and my older brother was a rocker as long as I can remember. One time just after he was old enough to drive, my Dad let him drive the car home most of the way from a family Florida vacation. He played Wish You Were Here on 8-track for almost the entire ride. It took some years for me to be able to listen to that with happy ears, I can tell you! Pop, Beatles, Glen Campbell, some old-school country now and again… there always seemed to be music on in the house when I was little.
Around when I was five, I was given a little transistor radio. Might have been for my birthday, might have been for Christmas. I can’t remember. What I do remember is that little black plastic, mono radio with its’ rotating dial and tiny earbud let me listen to my own music…and life was never the same. And here, I feel very lucky because I grew up near Toronto, Canada… so I got to mature listening to two of the coolest radio stations on the continent…CHUM when I was a kid, and CFNY as I grew towards adulthood.
The first station I seemed to find on that little transistor was 1050 CHUM. A Toronto “hits” station that was by far the most-listened to station in the entire country at the time. It had been around since, well about since Noah went looking for two giraffes and two hornets ( did you really have to take them…but I digress!) but one which had switched to rock and pop before the curve, in 1957. “All Shook Up” was the first song they played apparently, and their first #1 song. Madonna’s “Live to Tell” was its final one, 29 years later before it changed formats (the station still exists but is now talk sports apparently) so it covered my early school and junior high years. My tuner rarely swayed back then, even though my radios got better and better through the ’70s, to a big transistor with a big built-in speaker to one of those only-in-the-70s white, plastic stereos with rounded corners and a turntable on top. And I put that to use; while other kids were spending their allowances on chocolate bars or comic books, I was saving my coins til we went to the mall and I could buy “Chevy Van” or “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You” as singles. I still remember the first LP I bought – Elton John’s Greatest Hits. Nearly 50 years later, that still seems like a pretty decent place to start.
CHUM was a pretty conventional “top 40” station, even though it actually had a “top 30”. And a cool thing about that was they actually published it weekly… I’d stop by the basement of Eatons and go to the records and pick up a little folder with the top 30 songs listed inside, as the picture shows. And take a look at that, a fairly typical example of one. Rock – how ’bout BTO or Rick Derringer? Country, dare you say? Umm, Tom T. Hall, John Denver. Cool pop? Elton John, Wings. Disco? It’s there. In fact, CHUM let us hear pretty much everything that was hot in the decade from Motown to Meco to McCartney. It was one of the great things about the decade, its music (which Max nicely reminded us last week with his 70s AM Radio series) and radio before it became too formulated and narrow in playlists. Plus, it mixed in a fair bit of Canadian content. That helped the homegrown artists and let us hear even more of a range of music. The world knew Anne Murray and BTO but we knew Wednesday (from my hometown, their biggest hit being a cover of “Last Kiss”) and Edward Bear too. Years before he was writing “Black Velvet” for his girlfriend Alannah Myles, we knew Christopher Ward as a decent singer of soft-rock ballads (www.youtube.com/watch?v=2E1VgsoS6i4 ) thanks to CHUM.
One thing Toronto was great for – many say best in North America – was being open to new sounds and “obscure” British music. By 1980, CHUM’s list of #1 songs included some classic rock mega-names – Led Zeppelin, John Lennon, Pink Floyd – but also things like “Turning Japanese” by the Vapors and “Making Plans for Nigel” by XTC. That might have been inspired a bit by the second great station that I lived with – CFNY.
CFNY-FM was a station started in the late-’70s in “the little yellow farmhouse” in the outer suburbs. It’s reach was only a few miles at first; it’s nickname “the Spirit of Radio”… yes the one and the same name Rush wrote a song about. It concentrated on finding and playing great music other stations ignored. If you were going to hear the Damned, solo Peter Gabriel or Depeche Mode years before other people would in Canada, it was going to be on CFNY. As time went by though the station relocated, bought more powerful transmistors and was broadcasting to half a million regular listeners from the CN Tower. And making bands like the Psychedelic Furs and The Smths huge, arena-selling artists in Toronto. Such was their sway in the area that soon other stations began copying them to some degree. Not many hard rock stations were playing A Flock of Seagulls or “music at work” stations The Stranglers, but in Toronto they were. They had to to compete. Now, don’t get me wrong. I actually liked Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, even Madonna and I did hear them, once in awhile turning over to a hit station, or watching Much Music (our version of MTV) but by listening to so much CFNY I found incredible music by artists most elsewhere in North America never heard of – It’s Immaterial, Black (Liverpool singer Colin Vearncombe), (www.youtube.com/watch?v=koRT3HEmre4 )
Sinead O’Connor long before she flipped her wig and became a Saturday Night Live punchline. And as with CHUM, CFNY highlighted a lot of great Canadian acts. A couple of them went on to become national heroes with a lengthy string of platinum records at home… while remaining anonymous outside the Great White North. Blue Rodeo and Tragically Hip. The latter had very Canadian-oriented lyrics that made them so endeared the Prime Minister attended their final concert… which was televised nationwide on the national network! The former mixed country and rock seamlessly to create a great music that at the time defied labels – alt country? Country rock? Later it would probably be described as one of the early examples of “Americana” music (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mqa4YzKPrFw ), following the traditions of The Band before them. Something we took to by the millions up there… but wouldn’t likely have ever heard were it not for that one station championing them in the early days. See an example of one of their year-end charts below.
When I was six or seven, and coughing and my parents were fighting, I could be in my room listening to Jim Gold or the Doobie Brothers on that transistor radio…and feel kind of happy. A decade or so later, I didn’t fit in that well in many places but when I went to the indie record store and picked up the latest import 12” Depeche Mode single, I was everyone else’s equal… the equivalent of a Sheldon in Stuart’s comic book shop on Big Bang Theory. Music was my friend.
It still is, and I feel priviledged to be able to help you discover some of it, and make some human friends all the while doing so. Thanks again Max, for giving me this space today.
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