Sunday, April 26, 2009

TV Highlight Reels™

It's easier to find long-running TV shows that can be said to be the best work of multiple actors involved, sometimes the entire main cast, than it is to find a movie, even a very successful movie, that is the Highlight Reel™ for most of the cast.

I Love Lucy, the quintessential sitcom, clearly counts as a Highlight Reel™. It represents the best work of Vivian Vance, Desi Arnaz and William Frawley, and that can be said with little fear of contradiction. As for Lucille Ball herself, she had a significant film career before the show took off, and she kept working even after all the derivative versions of I Love Lucy went away. That said, this is the show that defines her career, and because it can still be found in re-runs half a century later, it can qualify as Lucy's Highlight Reel™, no matter how much fans might enjoy some of her early work like Stage Door or how much acclaim she got for later work like The Stone Pillow.

Some TV shows, even very successful ones, are harder to classify as Highlight Reels™. The Mary Tyler Moore Show is a Highlight Reel™ in my mind, but just barely. It is the best work of Gavin McLeod, even though he is lucky enough to find himself part of three different long running TV shows. It is the best work of Georgia Engel. But what about the rest of the cast?

For Mary Tyler Moore herself, her fans will be split between her work on this show and her work a decade earlier on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Some might even point to the movie Ordinary People. Ted Knight was great as Ted Baxter, but it's hard to forget his work as Judge Smales in Caddyshack. Some actors in this cast, including Ed Asner and Valerie Harper (not pictured here), reprise their roles in spin-offs, though the Lou Grant in Lou Grant and the character of the same name in The Mary Tyler Moore Show really don't have that much in common. Some Betty White fans might prefer Golden Girls. Cloris Leachman (not pictured here) not only got a spin-off show playing Phyllis Lindstrom, to many she will always be Frau Blucher.

A much more common situation on TV shows is to be a Highlight Reel™ by default, as some actors find it hard to get good work after a show goes away. That is certainly the case for WKRP in Cincinnati. Howard Hesseman, Loni Anderson and Tim Reid moved on from the show to star in other sitcoms, but the rest of the cast, including Gary Sandy and Jan Smithers, struggled to get good work. This type of Highlight Reel™ is more accurately classified as a Milk Carton™. This phenomenon is depressingly common, so I decided to name it as a separate sub-category.

Highlight Reel™ TV shows didn't magically disappear when the era of the Big Three TV networks sputtered to a halt. For my money, The Wire is the Highlight Reel™ for the entire cast, bar none. It's not for lack of work. A serious effort is being made to turn Idris Elba into a movie star, but I doubt he will ever get a role as good as Stringer Bell again. Many cast members have shown up on the Law & Order franchise in guest roles, and yet others have regular work on other TV shows.

Some may get chances to be in more memorable roles than they had on The Wire. But I'm not holding my breath waiting for it. This show was that good.


Katie Schwartz said...

I found you via my dear friend FranIAm. Great post!

Matty Boy said...

Hi, Katie! Glad you enjoyed it.

I'm going to do a few more Highlight Reel™ posts this week.

Karlacita! said...

I wonder if this is a Hubbard-brain-only kind of game?

I'm already working on it, but Michael never posts, though he reads every day.

I say let's get Mom in on it?

I'm putting forward Thin Man - were Myrna and William in better things? I liked Myrna in Best Year of Our Lives.I'm also putting forward What's Up Doc for Ryan O'Neal, Austin Pendleton, Sorrell Booke, Mabel Albertson, possibly Michael Murphy, and maybe even Babs herself.

Then there's the too fuckin' high fun of Used Cars as a best for Kurt Russell and Gerrit Graham, but David L. Lander and Deborah Harmon get Milk Cartons.

Whoops - IMDB says that both have been working a lot since then, and David has MS.

Matty Boy said...

Hey, Karlacita! For most "real" movie stars, I don't think there is a Highlight Reel™, most of them do a lot of good work, and that's why they stay in front of the public.

William Powell also has Life With Father and Mister Roberts, so I wouldn't make Thin Man his Highlight Reel™.

I like your choice of What's Up, Doc?, though Ryan O'Neal deserves some credit for Paper Moon as well. It is my favorite work of Babs.

Kurt Russell was A-number 1 tip-top in Tombstone, so I won't go with Used Cars for the Highlight Reel™.

This, of course, is just one expert's opinion.

Lockwood said...

So would you consider the original Star Trek series a highlight reel for most of its cast, or a milk carton reel?

CDP said...

I'm such a huge fan of The Mary Tyler Moore Show that I have to consider it The Highlight Reel for its cast. And I agree with Karlacita; the Thin Man is a good thought, but Myrna Loy was so great in "The Best Years" and in "Mr. Blandings" that I can't consider it her Highlight Reel. I love this idea, I can't wait to read more. And I fixed the earlier post...I had no idea that I'd posted it!

Matty Boy said...

Lockwood: Star Trek is Highlight Reel™ for Shatner and Nimoy, maybe Koenig and Majel Barrett, and Milk Carton™ for all the rest.

CDP: Glad you like the idea, this is the kind of trivia/bar argument I really enjoy. I would love to have a website like the dear departed Jump the Shark where people could come in and vote on this stuff.

There will be more posts for the rest of the week.

FranIAm said...

Oh Matty - yes, a website to take the place of JTS, may it rest in sharky, snarky peace after getting all screwed up.


And I am so glad Katie found her way here... she is a young jew telling jokes and a very funny one at that.