Friday, November 2, 2012

Doug's TV Time Machine: Variety Edition

A while back I began hosting informal monthly gatherings at my house where a bunch of us guys sit around watching old TV. Not just any old TV, not your run-of-the-mill TV Land reruns, but rare, odd and intriguing TV shows. I invited a select few friends and told them to bring any old, cool TV shows or clips that they might wanna share. These nights have now been dubbed TV TIME MACHINE and are now just about my favorite thing in the world. Where else but in my own living room could I be entertained by gems from TV's past like these...
PINK LADY AND JEFF - The notoriously bad NBC variety series that aired on Friday nights in the spring of 1980. This six-episode concoction from the warped minds of Sid & Marty Krofft has given me more laughs over the years than just about anything. From it's deer-in-the-headlights hostesses Mie and Kei to their "round eyed" co-host Jeff Altman, this DONNY & MARIE-like hour was designed to entertain us as we laughed along with the trio as they grow accustomed to each other and their traditions. Unfortunately, the offensive pandering makes the duo (who were chart-toppers in their native Japan) seem like awkward victims of a cruel prank. My lord, they even made them wear tee-shirts with their names on them so audiences could tell them apart! Celebrity guests included Bert Parks (he must have been real big with the kids in 1980), Sherman Hemsley, Sid Caesar (another teenybopper favorite), Donny Osmond, Larry Hagman (Jeez - how did they ever get HIM?), sex monkey Greg (BJ & THE BEAR) Evigan, Hugh Hefner (WTF?), Lorne (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) Greene, Boomer (NBC's answer to BENJI), Red Buttons, Florence ("I'll do anything as long as I get to sing" Henderson, Jerry ("Is this a telethon?") Lewis, Alice Cooper, Roy ("Pretty Woman") Orbison and Bobby ("Blue Velvet") Vinton! Ernest (Jim Varney) even shows up in a few episodes. Blondie "appears" in Episodes 1 and 4 via their videos for "Shayla" and "Eat to the Beat" as does Cheap Trick with "Dream Police". The highlight of each episode is when the gals attempt to phonetically sing popular English-language songs like "Boogie Wonderland," "You Needed Me," "Le Freak," and "Crazy Little Thing Called Love". The forced comedy moments between the duo and painfully unfunny Altman are only topped by the gratuitous hot tub scene at the close of each hour. Pure trash TV nirvana. I recall asking a girl in high school if she watched this show and her response was, "Doug, are you gay?"
A couple of notches above PINK LADY on the quality ladder is THE LOLA FALANA show. The Vegas superstar headlined a series of ABC specials during the mid-1970s which highlighted her vocal prowess and sexy body. Along with guests like Bill Cosby, Billy Dee Williams and Redd Foxx - Lola's show was the hippest place in town. Odd comedy sketches featuring Pat Morita are unwatchable, but the musical numbers featuring absolutely amazing costumes and wildly inventive choreography place these four crowd-pleasing hours up on the mantle of must-see TV. At a recent screening, even the token straight guy was yelling out "fabulous1"
Mitzi Gaynor is the queen of the TV Variety Special. I've blogged previously about the PBS special which featured clips from all her network outings. Now, thanks to a friend, I have seen two of those specials in their entirety.
Mitzi: A Tribute to the American Housewife (1974) and Mitzi...and a Hundred Guys (1975) are two incredibly entertaining hours of television. Packed with great guest stars, over-the-top costumes and brilliant dance numbers that showcase the barrel of dynamite that Mitzi was (and still is!). For my birthday tribute to Mitzi from last fall, go here.
All joking aside, Cass Elliot was a tremendous talent. From her years as a member of The Mama & The Papas to her great performance in the PUFNSTUF film - Cass was on the brink of superstardom when she tragically died. Her groovy 1969 ABC special, THE MAMA CASS TELEVISION PROGRAM featured wonderful performances by Cass and guests like Joni Mitchell and the late Mary Travers (looking beautiful here). This here is a "flower power" variety hour.
Requisite guest stars include loud-mouth comic Buddy Hackett and the then-married Martin Landau and Barbara Bain (stars of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and later SPACE: 1999). An odd, yet enjoyable hour.
Speaking of odd. LUCY CALLS THE PRESIDENT - more of a sitcom special than a variety special - is a strange hour indeed. Rather than revisit any of her previous Lucy characters, here Ms. Ball casts herself as Lucy Whittaker, a housewife who is expecting a visit from President Jimmy Carter. Along for the ride are familiar cohorts like Vivian Vance (sadly performing with a post-stroke slur), Gale Gordon (as a staunch Republican), Mary Jane Croft, Mary Wickes and newcomer Ed McMahon (as Lucy's husband).
There are a few genuine laughs along the way, mostly at Gale's expense, and Lucy's standby physical schtick always manages to resurface. Two other 1970s specials: LUCY GETS LUCKY (with Dean Martin) and THREE FOR TWO (with Jackie Gleason) are also curiosities best viewed with the fast forward button pressed. Lastly, in the variety category, we were treated to a 1969 episode of THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW.
This episode featured veteran World War II performers Martha Raye and Betty Grable as guests and is notable because it was the first appearance of AS THE STOMACH TURNS, the long-running soap spoof.

Oddly, the sketch was about the LAST episode of the soap, and how the show tied up it's loose ends. In the real world CBS's AS THE WORLD TURNS ended in 2010 - 40 years after Carol's "prediction". Well, that's my TV Time Machine trip for today.

1 comment:

Ookie said...

It's worth noting that the titular President of Lucy's special was Jimmy Carter. While Jimmy did not actually appear, his mom Miss Lillian had a cameo. It always confused me how Lucy (and her cast) played so many similar but different sit-com characters.