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Now Playing at the Packard Campus Theater (April 2-4, 2015)

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I programmed the Packard Campus Theater in April, and rather than pick my “favorite” films and television shows, I chose titles that have some deeper personal significance in my life and career. For example, we’re showing Orphans of the Storm (1921) on April 11 because that’s the first silent film I ever saw, two Les Blank documentaries about my home state of Louisiana on April 16, and Alfred Hitchcock’s masterful Notorious (1946) on April 24 because it’s one of the first “grown-up” films with which my now 20-year-old daughter connected.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (CBS, 1970-1977)

I’m starting the month with three nights of television programs that were a great deal of fun to choose. When I was a Masters student in Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas at Austin, one of my class assignments was to write a paper about of one night of primetime programming, assessing it in terms of narrative “flow,” how the stories being told connected to one another in interesting and unexpected ways. Later, I wrote a longer paper about television programming between 1950 and 1955, which eventually served as the basis for my Doctoral dissertation at the University of Maryland.

Those papers gave me an appreciation for the art of TV scheduling. Clearly, shows don’t land next to each other by happenstance; many a television executive has won or lost a job due to his or her skill at approving shows and then placing them somewhere in a three hour block where the most people–or the right demographic–is likely to find them. So, I want to pay tribute to three nights of TV programming when everything came together: good shows, smart placement, and high ratings.

Thursday, April 2, 2015 (7:30 pm)
NBC Thursday: “Must See TV” (1982-2006)
Never in the history of television did one network dominate a single night for such an extended period as NBC with its long-running “Must See TV” Thursday night lineups. This program will draw mainly from the 1984-1985 season, with the regrettable omission for time constraints of Family Ties and substituting an episode of ER for NBC’s most critically acclaimed show of the 1980s, the enormously influential Hill Street Blues.

The Cosby Show (1984-1992): “Call of the Wild” (24 September 1987). The Cosby Show anchored “Must See TV” for the duration of its run, and was the number one rated show on all of TV for much of that time. Even for a gentle, family-oriented show, it was never afraid to address issues of race and class. Both come into play in this episode, when the Huxtables’ daughter and son-in-law forsake careers in law and medicine to open an outdoor goods store.

Cheers (1982-1993): “Fortune and Men’s Weight” (2 February 1984). Ah, Sam and Diane: work colleagues, sparring partners, and, for a time, the most carefully scrutinized will-they-or-won’t-they couple on TV. By the time this second season episode of Cheers aired they were lovers, but the cracks were beginning to show.

Night Court (1984-1992): “Another Day in the Life” (5 February 1987): Night Court was a workplace comedy featuring comedian/magician Harry Anderson as a judge presiding over a Manhattan night court and an eccentric cast of characters led by John Larroquette, who won four consecutive Emmy Awards for his portrayal of prosecuting attorney Dan Fielding.

ER (1994-2009): “Love’s Labor Lost” (9 March 1995). Much as I revere Hill Street Blues (1981-1987), I had to schedule this gut-wrenching, Emmy-winning episode of ER, truly one of the finest single episodes in television history. Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) must deal with a complicated delivery that threatens the life of both mother and child. My daughter was five months old when this episode aired; I watched it while rocking her to sleep…and kept rocking her for several more hours once it ended.

Friday, April 3, 2015 (7:30 pm)
ABC Friday (1971-1972)
The first solid block of programming I remember liking as a kid, although my most vivid memories of the night tend to center on the fetching trifecta of Maureen McCormick (The Brady Bunch), Susan Dey (The Partridge Family), and Karen Valentine (Room 222).

The Brady Bunch (1969-1974): “The Subject Was Noses” (9 February 1973). Marcia breaks her nose in perhaps the most iconic episode of a very iconic series, amusingly reworked in the best of this year’s Super Bowl ads.

Room 222 (ABC, 1969-1974)

The Partridge Family (1970-1974): “Soul Club” (29 January 1971). While I was checking out this show for Susan Dey (although I also enjoyed the antics of wiseacre Danny Bonaduce), plenty of girls were watching for teen heartthrob David Cassidy. In “Soul Club,” the band is accidentally booked into a Detroit nightclub run by Richard Pryor and Lou Gossett, Jr.

Room 222 (1969-1974): “The Valediction” (2 December 1970). Room 222 was set in a Los Angeles high school history class taught by Pete Dixon (Lloyd Haynes), an African-American schoolteacher. The show featured an impressive array of young talent who later achieved considerable fame including, in this episode, Richard Dreyfuss and Ed Begley, Jr.

The Odd Couple (1970-1975): “Password” (1 December 1972). It might have seemed impossible to top the movie pairing of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau as exceptionally mismatched roommates in a TV adaptation of Neil Simon’s Broadway smash, but the chemistry between Tony Randall and Jack Klugman made this series a delight from start to finish.

Love, American Style (1969-1974): “Love and the Banned Book” (6 February 1970). Love, American Style, was an anthology series–usually three stories per episode, all named “Love and the Something-or-Other”–featuring a dizzying array of TV and movie stars, a strategy that The Love Boat would employ with even greater success later in the decade. Burt Reynolds and Elizabeth Ashley star in this story of a woman who writes a sex-filled bestseller and her suspicious husband who wonders where she got her material.

Saturday, April 4, 2015 (7:30 pm)
CBS Saturday (1973-1974)
I’m not usually one to declare that so-and-such is the “best” of anything, but I can declare without fear of contradiction that the CBS Saturday night lineup for the 1973-1974 season was (and will always be) the greatest night of TV ever. If you think differently, sorry, you’re wrong. Top this:

All in the Family (1971-1979): “Edith’s Problem” (8 January 1972). Groundbreaking, influential, a show that fundamentally changed television: All in the Family deserves all these accolades. As a show that never shied away from taboo subject matter, this episode is a case in point: Edith (Maureen Stapleton) is in the midst of menopause, but the person suffering the greatest discomfort seems to be Archie (Carroll O’Connor).

The Bob Newhart Show (CBS, 1972-1978)

M*A*S*H (1973-1984): “Abyssinia, Henry” (18 March 1975). Eleven years on the air, nary a poor episode in the bunch, and “Abyssinia, Henry” is truly one of the most memorable. Commanding officer Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) gets his discharge and the camp gathers to give him a truly debauched send-off, with a final scene both controversial and unforgettable.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977): “Chuckles Bites the Dust” (25 October 1975). Proclaimed by TV Guide to be the greatest episode in the history of television (amen!), the gang at WJM-TV copes with the loss of colleague Chuckles the Clown who meets his demise when, dressed as Peter Peanut, he’s shelled by a rouge elephant during a parade. The Mary Tyler Moore Show established the template for every workplace comedy that followed it…and there have been hundreds.

The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978): “Over the River and Through the Woods” (22 November 1975). Chicago psychologist Bob Hartley (Bob Newhart) gathers friends and patients for a tipsy Thanksgiving dinner while his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette) is out of town. This beloved series may never have achieved the monumental stature of the three shows preceding it, but Newhart himself is indisputably one of the finest TV comic straight men of all time.

The Carol Burnett Show (1967-1978): “Went With the Wind!” (13 November 1976). A fitting end to a funny evening, the most famous sketch from Burnett’s long running comedy series. You’ll never look at Scarlett O’Hara’s green velvet curtain dress the same way again.

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  1. It’s impossible to argue against CBS Saturday 1973-74 lineup. It’s amazing that Saturday went from being one of the most important viewing nights of the week to what is essentially a wasteland today. I really don’t understand it.

    From 1960-62 CBS Sundays had Lassie, Dennis the Menace, Ed Sullivan, GE Theater, Jack Benny, Candid Camera and What’s My Line. Probably not in the top 10 lineups of all time, but one that I would have really enjoyed.

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