By Cory Barker, Greg Boyd, Les Chappell, Emma Fraser, Andrew Rabin, Anthony Strand, and Cameron White
Welcome back to TWTV’s Hall of Fame!
Our first month was quite successful and we were happy to induct Twin Peaks, I Love Lucy, and Sesame Street into our completely real and soon-to-be-under-construction Hall of Fame. The really good news about that first run is that we had a lot of great feedback from readers and interest from fellow contributors. We’ve considered that feedback and, in turn, have reshaped how we approach the Hall of Fame moving forward. As we mentioned last month, we consider this to be an ongoing process that could and probably will change at any time (benefits of it being just for fun, perhaps). Nevertheless, we’re really happy with the changes we’ve made. They make the TWTV HoF better, and also make it more like Hall of Fames you might be more familiar with, like those in the sports world (unless you’re Noel). So, those changes:
- As the byline suggests, Cory and Les aren’t going alone anymore. Joining them (this time) are Greg, Emma, Andrew, Anthony, and Cameron.
- Instead of the head-to-head competition that we constructed last time, the nomination process now involves less direct antagonism between nominees. Meaning, each of our seven members will nominate one show (that could change in the future) relating to this month’s theme (more on that in a second). Then we’ll open it up to the voters to pick which one(s) get in. All seven might make it, or none of them might. There’s no limit to how many shows you as a voter can choose to induct. But because we’re removing that head-to-head match-up, we’re bumping the percentage of votes needed up to 60 percent.
- On that point, you’ll notice that our nomination statements are less confrontational since we aren’t really “competing” in the same way that Cory and Les were in the first month (Les won 2–1, by the way). Below you’ll find each of our short pitches that are hopefully persuasive enough to get you to vote.
- Andrew had some really great ideas involving statistical analysis—again, much like sports—that we really wanted to incorporate somehow. He is going to provide a “gut” pick like the rest of us, but once all the nominations have been made, he’s also going to introduce and break down each candidate using his fairly legitimate and effective statistical formula. Think of it as additional information you can use when making your voting decision. His quantitative assessments will be coming later this week.
There you have it. Those are the big structural changes to the HoF for now. The other piece of new information is this month’s theme, which you must have already deduced from the headline: Shows that aired less than 30 episodes. It’s pretty self-explanatory. We wanted to honor some shows that didn’t last too long but had large influences on television in various regards. We chose 30 because it seemed to be large enough to account for the production realities of the past (in that single seasons often had more than the now-common 22–24 episodes) but still small enough to be considered, well, small. Our five-year rule still applies, and clearly the “still on television but so influential” rule does not.
Without further ado then, here are the October 2012 nominations for the TWTV Hall of Fame.
Update: We (Cory, with the help of Andrew) recognized that the construction of the original poll was flawed. The only way to fix that is have seven different yes/no polls. So accept or the decline the shows as you wish. We added the previous votes into the “yes” categories of the correct shows. Cory apologizes for being a fool.
The Jim Henson Hour (12 episodes: nine on NBC in 1989; two of the unaired episodes on Nickelodeon in 1992–93; one episode never aired in US)
In many ways, The Jim Henson Hour was two separate shows reflecting the two different sides of Jim Henson’s work. For six of the nine episodes that aired on NBC, the hour-long episodes were split in two. For the first half hour, Kermit and friends would star in MuppeTelevision, a The Muppet Show-style variety show where Kermit ran a television studio, complete with big name guest stars (including NBC stars of the day like Ted Danson, Willard Scott, and Jane Pauley). While not featuring all the Muppet regulars (the show was particularly light on Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear as Frank Oz had started his non-Henson directing career), this half hour featured many of the Muppets’ trademarks, including musical performances, pop culture spoofs (one sketch was “hurtingsomething,” a parody of thirtysomething), and meta-commentary (the fifth episode, entitled “The Ratings Game,” has Kermit panicking about the show’s low ratings). MuppeTelevision also introduced several new characters, including Clifford, who went on to be the host of 1996’s Muppets Tonight, and CGI puppet Waldo C. Graphic, the first ever computer generated puppet, who still serves as the lead in Walt Disney World’s Muppet*Vision 3D.
The second half hour featured darker stories, more reflective of Henson’s later films, such as Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. Often taken from previous episodes of Henson’s 1988 series The Storyteller, these segments were half-hour folk tales reenacted with both humans and puppets.
But in many ways, the real highlight of The Jim Henson Hour is the segments when Henson himself talks to the audience. Each episode opens and closes with Henson, often discussing some of the puppets, technology, or stories featured in that program. And the tenth episode, “Secrets of the Muppets,” features Henson giving the audience a tour of The Muppet Workshop in New York and the Henson Creature Shop in London; it also discusses some of the behind-the-scenes workings of The Muppets, including how Waldo C. Graphic is performed and how the iconic bicycle scenes in the Muppet films were completed. Perhaps because of Henson’s death (this would be his last television series before he passed away in May 1990), this footage seems all the more valuable.
The ratings for The Jim Henson Hour were a complete disaster; it often ran as one of the five lowest-rated shows on network television for the entire week. At the same time, the show was well received critically, nominated for six Emmys despite its short run (with Henson winning Outstanding Directing in a Variety or Music Program), as well as winning the Television Critics Association award for Children’s Program in 1989.
[Note: It’s available on available on YouTube, complete with 1989 commercials!]
The Office (UK) (14 episodes on BBC Two/One from 2001–2003)
The mockumentary style is a bit of a cliché today, with shows like Parks and Recreation and Modern Family using it to tell their stories while Community twice used it in loving parody. The show that launched this form’s current heyday, though, is a far cry from the slick, stylistic tendencies of its descendants, including its American adaptation. When The Office first premiered on BBC Two in the UK in 2001, it was very nearly canceled; instead, the adventures of David Brent and his associates at the Slough branch of the Wernham Hogg Paper Company have become one of the country’s most successful exports, with local adaptations launched in the US, French Canada, Chile, Germany, Sweden, and Israel. Moreover, the show’s expert use of cringe comedy, perfected by creators Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais, made it one of the most unusual comedies of its time. Not a bad list of accomplishments for only 14 episodes.
Freaks and Geeks (18 episodes on NBC from 1999–2000)
While many TV shows have focused on the teenage years, few have done so with the honesty of Freaks and Geeks. In just 18 episodes, it created a world so indelible that viewers feel like they’ve spent a lifetime getting to know nerdy high school freshman Sam Weir, his semi-rebellious older sister Lindsay, and their friends. The show is built on small moments, each one adding just a little bit more to what we know about its characters and how they relate to each other. The series is set in 1980, but it never relies on cheap period references for its humor. The kids have conversations about their favorite movies and music, because that’s what actual kids do. The time period is never mocked for being “not the present,” which allows Freaks and Geeks to feel much more universal than many similar shows. Nearly every element of the show feels natural, including the level of pain experienced by the geeks. They get bullied and humiliated, but they’re also allowed plenty of joys and successes. It avoids the easy out of reveling in misery, offering a more balanced and realistic look at adolescence.
In the years after the show ended, creator Paul Feig went on to direct episodes of Arrested Development, The Office, and other single-camera comedy favorites; executive producer Judd Apatow became the king of movie comedy for a while; and the cast members have been steadily employed in everything from Bones to Party Down to Cougar Town.
Slings and Arrows (18 episodes on Canada’s Movie Central/The Movie Network from 2003–2006)
Maybe someone will make another great show about theater—or the performing arts in general, for that matter—one day. As it is, Slings and Arrows represents the pinnacle of television shows centered on this subject, as well as one of the greatest shows ever made. It was often flat-out hysterical, and if nothing else is noteworthy for giving us three of the cleverest, funniest, and best theme songs (one for each season, each relating to the Shakespeare play the characters are working on during that season) in the history of television. But it also took its characters’ artistic struggles—as well as the financial problems they faced in their attempts to stage their work—seriously, which led to real dramatic stakes during each of the seasons, in addition to the frequently hilarious comedy. The series finale is one of the best finales ever made, bringing the 18 episodes of this brilliant and unique show full circle in inspiring and absolutely perfect fashion.
Frank’s Place (22 episodes on CBS from 1987–1988)
I like a lot of these nominations. Here’s my choice: Frank’s Place.
The 1987–88 single-season CBS comedy from prominent producer Hugh Wilson and star Tim Reid tackled some pretty weighty issues related to race and class through its New Orleans restaurant setting. For a late-1980s sitcom on CBS, a show about black culture, New Orleans cuisine, voodoo, and more probably doesn’t sound like the best of ideas from a business perspective—and apparently, it wasn’t. Viewers didn’t hook on to Frank’s Place in that single season. But it wasn’t just the content that challenged viewers, it was the shooting style as well. See, Frank’s Place was not a multi-camera comedy. Nope, it was a single camera comedy with no laugh track. Mainstream audiences didn’t really warm to this idea until the early ’00s, so it’s no surprise that Place didn’t become a major hit.
Still though, the special narrative interest and innovative shooting style connected with critics and scholars. The show won three Emmys and a TCA award among other honors, and I’ve come across the show countless times in my research about comedy, place, and genre on television. Unfortunately, Frank’s Place isn’t available on DVD because of music rights. But some clips are out there on the Internet that I’ve watched and enjoyed. It’s an interesting show, and one that probably had a much bigger impact on television than most people—including me—know.
Spaced (14 episodes on the UK’s Channel 4 from 1999–2001)
So I had to choose between My So-Called Life and Spaced, but seeing as I write regularly about Angela Chase at the moment, I figured I would go for the latter.
Spaced, like many wonderful British sitcoms, only ran for two seasons, and anticipating current shows like Community it utilized pop culture references to maximum effect (before there was Community paintball, there was Spaced paintball). This has translated into the post-Spaced work of director Edgar Wright and co-stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, in films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (and surely in their forthcoming The World’s End). It isn’t just about parody or pastiche though, as they manage to inject their own humor and characterization into something that could simply be seen as coasting on references to proven material. Spaced is where it began for Wright, Pegg, and Frost and they referenced contemporary movies and shows including The Matrix, Robot Wars, The X-Files, and Fight Club, as well as countless older ones (there’s a special feature on the DVD that points out every reference, which kind of ruins the fun but reveals just how many there are).
Spaced goes beyond the obscure, though. It makes you care so much about this merry band of misfits—from Brian and his avant-garde painting to Marsha and her (unseen) screaming teen daughter—that you want everything to work out for them. In true sitcom tradition there is a will they/won’t they dynamic, with central characters Daisy and Tim moving in together on the pretense that they are a couple and starting their friendship in this farcical manner, and while Tim pines for his ex you know that Daisy would be the better woman for him. Like the best sitcoms it can make you laugh and cry, and I challenge anyone to watch the series finale without getting a little misty-eyed. (Also, if Pegg’s Tim Bisley) knew that he would grow up to be Scotty it would blow his mind.
Fawlty Towers (12 episodes on BBC2 from 1975–1979)
I hate to talk about this one anymore, but I wracked my brain and couldn’t come up with an alternative I felt better about for this category than Fawlty Towers. So what’s a couple hundred words more?
If being a member of Monty Python wasn’t enough for John Cleese’s comedy resume, he followed up almost immediately with Fawlty Towers, one of the finest sitcoms ever put on the air. I’ve been engaged in a project to review the series, and I’m having a hard time doing so because it’s almost impossible to find any points of criticism. In 12 episodes (six in 1975, six in 1979) Fawlty Towers put on a masterclass of farce within the walls of an unassuming Torquay hotel, 12 comedies of error and masterfully escalated tensions that remain utterly timeless—”He’s from Barcelona” and “Don’t mention the war” are probably some of the best-known lines in comedy. As played by Cleese, Basil Fawlty is a truly immortal sitcom character: obnoxious yet obsequious, ultraconservative about sex and money, a fountain of some of the greatest physical comedy ever put to film.
It’s just honestly difficult to think of a sitcom that’s had more of an impact on television than Fawlty Towers, which is all the more remarkable given how few episodes it aired. The great multi-camera comedies like Cheers or Taxi freely acknowledge their debt to the show and the dysfunctional workplace/family dynamic it created. American networks have attempted to remake it several times over years but always come up short (even with such figures as Harvey Korman, Bea Arthur, and John Larroquette attached to versions). It was even influential by virtue of its brevity—showrunners like Ricky Gervais (The Office) and Ben Elton (Blackadder) are both on record as saying they purposely limited the amount of episodes they made of their respective shows because of how much Fawlty Towers was able to do in a short run.
You’ve heard our pitches. Now it’s your turn. Vote for as many or as few shows as you would like. Remember: You can vote more than once. Shows must receive 60 percent of the vote to be inducted.