A Fool's Utopia 3.11.10: A Look at FOX Sundays
Posted by Ron Martin on 03.11.2010
This week in one man's utopia we take a look at the shows that set the foundation for what would become FOX Sundays. We also discuss the passing of Corey Haim, the Oscars, Vampire Diaries and my first real Wrestlemania moment.
There are certain nights of TV that are bigger than the programs themselves. For example, anything NBC puts on Thursday nights is going to start off with a better chance than most because it's on NBC Thursdays where the likes of The Cosby Show, Cheers, Frasier, Seinfeld, Friends etc, have trained people to look for comedy for almost three decades. In today's example, we're taking a look at FOX Sundays, which has been the cornerstone of its lineup since the network debuted in 1987 – yes, I am older than FOX. For the first two years of it's existence, FOX broadcasted only on the weekends, so it was imperative that this lineup catch America's imagination or FOX would become a RETRO entry twenty some odd years later. Let's look back at some of the shows that FOX has used in their #1 spot over the years as they were developing the night.
In the Beginning….
The most crucial lineup as far as FOX succeeding as a network looked like this…
21 Jump Street
I wrote about this show last week in RETRO and I stand by the statement that it's an overlooked quality show. There was nothing like it on TV at the time – sure there were cop dramas. Always has been and always will be, but nothing involving teenagers and people as pretty as Johnny Depp and Holly Robinson. It worked.
America's Most Wanted
Maybe you've heard of this one? It would eventually go on to become the most well known, effective crimestopping reality show on TV. I don't know if there was a format such as Criminal A performed this crime, here's his picture, have you seen him? on TV before this show, but this was the one that captured audiences imagination.
What's left to say about this show? It was cultural significant enough to have been lampooned many, many times on skit shows and cartoons alike. It introduced the world to Ed O'Neil, Katey Sagal and Christina Applegate. Al Bundy became a cultural icon. Married highlighted something that hadn't of yet been touched on in American television – the dysfunctional family. Married…with Children was every family oriented sitcoms nightmarish cousin that they'd rather not talk about.
It's Garry Shandling's Show
A terribly underrated comedy – at least I thought it was funny when I was 13. I haven't seen it since so the nostalgia factor may be sugarcoating things quite a bit for me. Regardless, it had a killer theme song.
The Tracey Ullman Show
Most people know the Tracey Ullman Show as the show that spun off The Simpsons. In it's own right, the Tracey Ullman Show was funny (could be the nostalgia again). The first of a series of skit shows that FOX would try, this was basically a vehicle to get Tracey mainstream attention in America. The cast of said show? Check out the closing credits for The Simpsons and you've pretty much got it.
Your basic sitcom featuring two mismatched couples. As FOX programming would go, this show was the closest thing to traditional and as such, it has pretty much been forgotten.
Ever heard of a guy named Richard Grieco? He was supposed to be the next big thing back in the day. We know how "next big things" always turn out, don't we? Grieco played Dennis Booker, a recurring character from21 Jump Street's third season. The character was made to be spunoff into Jump Street's timeslot while Jump Sreet was to anchor Mondays, a new night of programming for FOX in 1989. One season later and Grieco is a trivia question.
Perhaps you've heard of this show? I won't get too in depth other than to say this is the first FOX show ever to pop into the Top 30 in TV ratings, proved that animated series can be successful, became worldwide cultural icons while changing everything we thought we knew about TV at the time. Did I mention that it's still on the air today? Not bad for a show created a few minutes before a pitch meeting.
This is the follow up to Duet using some of the cast from that failed show. Yeah, that never works. This is only notable for the TV debut of then unknown Ellen DeGeneres.
The Meat Years…
I never realized how much I watched FOX Sunday nights until I remembered this show. White wife, black husband, two families with cultural differences….it reeks of struggling sitcom for two years before being cancelled.
Get A Life
This is somewhat of a cult favorite starring Chris Elliott as Chris Peterson in a surreal format. Now that I look back on it, I can't help but think that it was a show ahead of its time. The surreallness of the show plays like a live action version of a lot of the ridiculous cartoons Adult Swim has made so popular. Chris was a thirty something year old paperboy for crying out loud. If you've ever seen Chris Elliott in anything, you kind of understand where the show was coming from. A hero to some, Chris is annoying to most, but I loved the show. I really should get it on DVD.
In Living Colour
I've talked about this one in the past. It's the successor to The Tracey Ullman Show in FOX's desperate attempt to find a sketch comedy show that works. This time the task was handed over to the Wayans family producing several memorable characters like Homey the Clown, Fire Marshall Bill, Men on Films and that Jamaican family where every character had ten jobs. Cultural significant? It launched the careers of Keenan Ivory Wayans, Damon Wayans, David Alan Grier, Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx and somehow Jennifer Lopez. It featured top rap groups as musical guest and you know that your show has made when there's a porn parody.
Parker Lewis Can't Lose
I don't know if there's a porn parody of Parker Lewis, but there defiantly should be. Parker was the poor man's Ferris Bueller, though it should be noted that the Ferris Bueller TV series failed while the Parker Lewis series did fine. I've written about Parker Lewis before and with it's over the top, ridiculous storylines it fit right in with that FOX was doing at the time.
This is what I remember about Roc-- a fat trash collector with a hot wife and it was filmed live. At the time, I was led to believe this was a big deal and that somehow Roc would be the next Jackie Gleason. Years later, I'm probably the only one that even remembers what Roc's hot wife looked like.
Another FOX specialty, this show had the unique format of wacky situational comedy complete with a look at the decision making process inside of Herman's Head in the form of four individuals representing intelligence, neurosis, love and machismo. It wasn't a bad show and had what I thought was a unique format. It didn't last long, but it did give us Hank Azaria so it couldn't have been that bad.
The Ben Stiller Show
Another show I've written about in RETRO. I guess it's easy to figure out that this lineup had quite the affect on me. Yet another sketch comedy show that would bring us the talents of Ben Stiller (probably a little too early, though there is lots on the show that is funny), Janeane Garofalo, Andy Dick and Bob Odenkirk. This was one of Judd Apatow's first writing gigs to boot. With skits like Bruce Springsteen trying to make an answering machine message and COPSin Salem, Mass 1692, there was plenty of good. While the show was an MTV success, it wasn't ready for the networks.
Toss in a couple of more traditional (in FOX terminology, that term might as well mean "unsuccessful") sitcoms and that's the lineup of shows that would guide FOX into a full 24/7 airing schedule that it didn't attain until 1993. Maybe another day, in another column we'll chronicle the rise of the FOX Sunday lineup using The Simpsons as it's rock and The X-Files as it's hard place to get audiences for new debuting shows like King of the Hill, Malcolm in the Middle and That 70s Show.
IT CAME FROM MY IPOD
This week my ipod has decided to pick five songs in regards to Chef Daniel Angerer in New York. Chef Angerer has caused somewhat of a stir by serving cheese in his restaurant…made from his wife's milk. I don't think it's so bad, but let's see what my ipod has to say.
1. "Mama Kin" by Aerosmith
2. "Cream" by Prince
3. "People Are Strange" by the Doors
4. "All You Can Eat" by the Fat Boys
5. "Toxicity" by System of a Down
FIVE RANDOM THOUGHTS
1. I was awoken this morning to the news of Corey Haim's death. This is not the ideal way I like to start my day. A child of the 80s, I am very familiar with the body of work Haim left behind. His partnership with Corey Feldman dominated the decade as the two would appear on the cover of just about every teenie magazine ever invented. Not one much for teen pop stars, I did appreciate the movies Haim filled my childhood with. It would be a surprise to no one if I spouted off that The Lost Boys is my favorite Haim movie. I think about 95% of you would answer the same. However, I was also very much a fan of Silver Bullet, Dream a Little Dream, License to Drive and even the movie I watched a dozen times because it's all HBO would run, Lucas. In fact, it would be this latter film that I would have my infamous two line conversation with Haim when I met him for the first and only time at a horror convention almost exactly a year ago.
Me: I'm guessing you're not signing a lot of those Lucas photos today.
Haim: Actually, I'm signing a lot – A LOT.
I immediately declared us best buddies and went about ordering Bro-mance t-shirts. Like John Hughes and Michael Jackson before him, Haim had a big part in creating my childhood/adolescence. Make all the jokes you want about the guy after his career had fallen to direct-to-DVD spy movies, but the guy gave me lots of good memories and performances that I have no problem watching over 20 years later. I can't fault him for that. I hope he's found whatever it is he is looking for. Yet another piece of my childhood gone.
2. Oscar Thoughts:
a. I've never been a big proponent of awards shows. I understand why people want to win the awards – everyone enjoys recognition for their hard work. Awards shows, however, seem to be the movie equivalent of the literary world. Most literary snobs will snub their noses at Stephen King as he sells millions and millions of books while applauding some novel you've never heard of that may have sold 1500 copies if the writer's circle of friends and family is large enough. Given the option, I'd rather be the guy who starred in the movie that made $200 million instead of the guy holding an Academy Award for a movie that made $20 million. If you can get both, great.
b. Though I didn't feel like I was emotionally invested, I was kind of happy that Avatar didn't win best picture. It's the big kid on the block at the moment, but I have a feeling that this thing will not age well. This will be the next Titanic. A cultural phenomenon at the time of its release, but years later the movie will be seen for what it is (a special effects showcase) and a backlash will occur.
c. Glad to see Jeff Bridges win the big one. I haven't seen his movie just yet, but he's entertained me enough over the years that I was happy he won. I was extremely happy he quoted perhaps his most popular character, The Dude, in his acceptance speech.
d. I was okay with the John Hughes tribute. I like the montage. I would have liked some modern days directors/writers (Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow) throwing props on how Hughes has affected this entire generation of writers. While it was great to see the bits of John's people that we did, I wouldn't have minded seeing a few more. Perhaps dialogue a bit less stilted than what we got? At least John got a tribute, which was well deserved.
3. I don't want to overdue it with deceased celebrities, but I was also saddened to hear the news of the death of Andrew Koenig. I always enjoyed the antics of Richard "Boner" Stabone on Growing Pains. I was confused why Boner would just up and join the armed forces like he did. Years later, I found out that he was written off the show because Kirk Cameron went on a bible kick and decided a character named Boner had no place on his show. He basically took over the show and cleansed it. Hmmm…that's why Growing Pains sucked balls the last few seasons.
4. Now that Alice in Wonderland is released and has already reached blockbuster status, I am curious as to how Disney is going to market the franchise. Will they go balls out in their parks and merchandise like they did with the uber popular Pirates or will they market like any other movie produced by Disney separate from the canon of characters that make up Disney parks? They've certainly let Tim Burton create a unique look on all of his characters – looks that lend themselves to merchandising.
The conflict (especially in the parks) arise in the fact that they've already got a beloved Alice in Wonderland classic. The Mad Hatter and Alice are walk around characters in the Disney parks. The Queen of Hearts and several of the cards have been seen from time to time as well. Does Disney have two versions of these characters? It's not like the original Alice characters are fading in popularity. They are some of the most sought after characters for tweens/teens and adults. I'll be keeping an eye on this and seeing what Disney decides to do. Should be interesting.
5. Finally caught an episode of The Vampire Diaries. I've been vampired out the last couple of years, so when the series was announced, even though it was based on one of my favorite book series as a kid, I decided to pass on it. I'm not sad that I did. There were some intriguing parts, for sure, but in 13 episodes they've already whizzed through the trilogy of books and are starting on their own stories. While there's nothing wrong with that, many of the characters resemble very little of the characters I knew from the books. It seems to be another pretty people – some of who happen to be vampires event. Not the worst thing I've ever seen, but didn't strike me as must-see-TV either.
THIS WEEK ON RETRO…
I don't know how many weeks it is until the next Wrestlemania. Hell, I'm not even 100% sure if it's Wrestlemania XXVI or Wrestlemania XXVII. Most of my wrestling knowledge these days comes from the 411Wrestling arm of the site. I have no idea what Drew McIntyre looks like or which kind of makeup Sting is wearing these days. My wrestling viewing the past few years have been exclusive to Christian in TNA/ECW occasionally and segments involving Bret Hart. Every once in awhile, if the guest host is interesting enough to me, I'll flip to USA on commercial breaks while watching TV on Mondays.
This is a long way of me getting around to saying there was a time when I was big into wrestling. Actually there were two times. Both times were when wrestling was at its peaks (late 80s/mid to late 90s) and both times I stuck around longer than most, but ended up barely keeping up afterwards. It was from this first bout with wrestling fandom that I get my personal Wrestlemania moment.
Even when I was 13, I was no fan of Hulk Hogan. He won all the time, he wasn't very exciting and he was a little too goody two shoes for me. I gravitated towards the Ultimate Warrior. The Warrior may have won all the time, but he was way more exciting and just a tad bit crazy. Wrestlemania VI was the first thing I ever watched on PPV. I was content with the fact that my favorite tag team, Demolition, won their third tag team titles earlier in the night, but upset that the Macho Man had to lay down for that fat polka dotted son of a bitch, Dusty Rhodes. The Ultimate Warrior could break the tie for me. I was actually nervous when this match started. I couldn't see any possible way the Warrior could lose. I couldn't see any possible way that Hogan could lose. I had no idea what to think. My mind had concocted some scenario where every heel in the federation was going to kill two birds with one stone and jump both men at once causing a double DQ. What a terrible way to end Wrestlemania, but it was the only thing my barely teenage mind could understand.
When Warrior won, I jumped up like my favorite football team had just won the Super Bowl. I even bought the stupid Warrior wall hanging and put it up in the corner of my room because I was too cool for it to be flat on a wall. At least I redeemed myself with Samantha Fox and Alyssa Milano on an opposite wall. Don't judge me! I was in a transitional period, alright? Unfortunately, I would get too old and jaded to ever really feel like that about a wrestling match again, though I would come close at WM 20 for Benoit and 25 for Undertaker. I don't want to see the dude's streak end – why should it?
I lost interest in the Warrior around the time he bought out Amanda Warrior. I had moved on to bigger and better things – like Amanda Perkins who lived on the other side of our apartment complex.
Often overlooked because of the personalities involved, that was my ultimate Wrestlemania moment as a child.
23 YEARS AGO TODAY
March 11, 1987
"Livin' On a Prayer" by Bon Jovi
Licensed to Ill by The Beastie Boys
NOTABLES: "You Got to Fight (For Your Right)," "Paul Revere," "Rhymin and Stealin," and "Girls"