The Greatest SitCom Ever Broadcast

Posted: December 30, 2008 in The Roper Files
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box-sets
Television depending on your point of view is either the greatest invention of the 20th century or the bane of modern man. Some blame it for illiteracy.
I grew up in front of television; my mother quickly discovered the power of her favorite one-eyed babysitter to hold my attention for enough time to do her housework and keep me out of her hair.
My childhood was filled with strange and wonderful characters: the Mertzes and the Ricardos, the Munsters, the Three Stooges and the Clampetts just to name a few.

But as I grew older I lost interest in most of them. Seen all these shows too many times; I know all the dialogue, I know all the plots. The television sits silently today in my living room like some LSD-inspired one-eyed monster from the pages of ZAP Comics. Modern TV programming for the most part bores me; by and large it’s mostly unwatchable low-budget “reality TV” The only shows I can stand to watch on a regular basis anymore are animated shows like Family Guy or The Simpsons. Hollywood has stopped trying to be creative. Never thought I would see the sit-com become an extinct species.

At least I can still see some of my old favorites on TV Land; but after years of watching them with the repetition of studying the Zapruder footage of JFK being murdered over and over in a loop I’ve discovered something. I’m getting tired of them; I’m becoming weary of the repetition of the cliches, or at least more aware of them.

But our of all of them one show holds up after all these years and that’s Green Acres.
Why Green Acres? Out of all the shows I’ve mentally digested over the years, this one still holds my attention. As a writer I appreciate the simplicity of the series premise: city folks transplanted in the country. Doesn’t get much more basic than that. And the show also has a fascinating array of characters: Mr. Kimball, Mr. Ziffel and Mr. Haney, a character WC Fields would have been proud of. Don’t think I really appreciated the subtle and not-so-subtle humor of the show when I was a kid. Like Lisa (Eva Gabor) almost always strutting around in a sexy nightie. And you can’t do comedy without a straight man and to give credit where credit was due, Eddie Albert was a pretty damn good straight man to put up against the loony characters of Hooterville.

Now on a cursory examination the show was probably the stupidest thing ever written; I can’t imagine trying to “pitch” this show to a board of studio executives today. How would you “sell” a character like Arnold Ziffel today? But just on that basis alone creator Paul Henning forever has my admiration. He must have been nothing less than one hell of a pitchman. But he had a pair of hits on his hands with his other series The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction so the studios were probably writing him blank checks by that point.

But if one considers the age of the show it hasn’t aged that much. Consider this exchange between Oliver Douglas ( Eddie Albert) and the telephone installer:

“Sorry sir; only one telephone per household”

“Okay then how about jacks in every room?”

“Jacks?”

“You know, so we can plug the phone in any room in the house…”

“You’re kidding me…”

Hey that might have been written 40 years ago, but he sounds just like the typical ding-ding AT&T sends over to my place when I’m having problems. During a recent three-week bout of my Internet and television signal flickering on and off, I discovered that the Monroe “brothers” on Green Acres had bred, multiplied and were all employed by AT&Ts U-Verse branch.
It took no less than six technicians on six separate visits for technician #6 to actually climb the pole and locate the source of my problem. We’re talking six days of MY time where I had to sit around and wait for the AT&T guy to show up between 8am and five pm (only to NOT fix the problem) At one point I felt myself morphing into Oliver Douglas when I suggested trying a new modem. “Oh no I’m not allowed to do THAT sir”

But I digress…

I’m probably going to regret typing these words but Green Acres also bears the distinction of being one of a very short list of 60’s television shows Hollywood hasn’t attempted to turn into a feature motion picture (yet) It can only be a matter of time before we get MR ED starring Ice Cube or ADAM 12 with Woody Harrelson and Charlie Sheen but Green Acres has managed to stay under Hollywood’s radar so far. Perhaps they don’t see it as commercially viable but as more and more people move away from the blight of modern cities and buy homes in “the sticks” perhaps the appeal will return. In the meantime I’m off to watch and see if Sam Drucker and Arnold ever finish that game of checkers. Just bought myself Volumes One, Two and Three on DVD so don’t bother e-mailing or phoning me; I won’t be answering or returning those for a while. Don’t knock; I’m busy.

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