A Brief & Inadequate History of TV Comedy

by Larry Brody

For me, television comedy began with Uncle Miltie. Milton Berle, whom I first laughed at/with/from in 1948. In just a few short years he was joined, as my definition of comedy, by Sid Caesar, Martin & Lewis (why did Dean get first billing? No wonder Jerry was mad), Red Skelton, Bob & Ray, and Ernie Kovacs (above), who I still believe was the cleverest comic who ever lived.

Yes, I’ve left out Lucille Ball. Because as a child I couldn’t really laugh at her. All that angst, that desperation to be loved – sorry, but she made me way too tense.

By the late ’50s I was getting most of my laughs from the One And Only Harvey Kurtzman, originator of Mad, first a comic and then a magazine and always batshit insane. I still remember how I felt when I saw my first issue and met “The Lone Stranger.” It was incredible. The most joyous moment of my then short life…because I had just found out that I wasn’t alone. That others – who got published! read! paid! – saw the same absurdity everywhere that I did.

I will happily argue (and have, in my sadly now out-of-print book Turning Points in Televisionthat until the birth of The National Lampoon in 1970 Harvey Kurtzman and his Uncle Miltie-plus-incredibly-complicated-panels-Jewish-humor sensibility were the basis for all popular humor. Every stand-up comic. Every sitcom. They all owed an incredible debt to:

The most influential comedy mayven of the ’60s probably was Neil Simon.

In one sense he was the spawn of Sid Caesar, but Sid Caesar was, in essence, Harvey Kurtzman on the screen instead of the page. Simon, AKA Mr. Badeep Badop Badoop, had a very definite dialog rhythm, page after page of:

  • set-up
  • set-up
  • punchline

Over and over, bringing tears of laughter to Broadway audiences and, then, to TV audiences as writers like James Brooks, Ed.Weinberger, and dozens of others (including another noted Sid Casesar alum, Carl Reiner) translated the Simon rhythm to the small screen…and, for my money, outdid him time and time again.

Until The National Lampoon, comedy was about the shleppers, the oppressed who laughed at the oppressors, delighting in raining on the parade of the uncaring, stupid 1% (although of course they weren’t called that then). Nat Lamp, however was Harvard through and through, humor for the Überclass.

That effect was even stronger when it made its way to TV on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. Chevy Chase’s heartfelt, “I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not” said it all. (How do I account for John Belushi in view of my statements above? Well, he was a big exception, and we know how well that went for him, don’t we?)

The 21st Century brought another sea change, ushering in our current era, The Judd Apatow Rebellion.

I say “rebellion” because I genuinely believe that. From THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW to UNDECLARED to any and all of his movies, Apatow has taken us back to the schlemiel losers with their cockeyed perspectives, disdain for the ruling class, and undying hope. His influence now is all-pervasive. Neil Simon was a shlepper compared to Apatow, whose slackers understand what Sabatini’s Scaramouche (my favorite hero, dramatic or comedic, of all time) knew so well:

He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.

I love current comedy. The chaos of it. The disrespect. But I have an admission to make. Every time I read about some comics property being turned into a film or TV series my mind goes back to Harvey Kurtzman and I wonder: “Why, why, why, isn’t someone making his greatest creation [with the truly awesome Will Elder]?”:

THOR Film Review

by Larry Brody

Yes, I know. I’m late seeing this, but, thank the Great God Netflix, see it I did.

And I thought it was great.

Not as much action as Wheedon’s AVENGERS. Nor as much comedy, but to quote another classic, “What’s there is cherce.”

Anyone remember the advertising tag line from Christopher Reeve’s first SUPERMAN movie: “You’ll believe a man can fly.”

The recent crop of Marvel films makes me believe superheroes are real.

No kid – especially not this one, whose first comic book was the issue of the original All Star Comics where the Justice Society went into the future – could have asked for more.

Lifetime “Rescues” Marc Cherry’s Latest Series

…but who’s going to rescue us?

by Michael Ausiello

ABC’s loss is Lifetime’s gain.

After weeks of negotiations, the cable net has officially handed Marc Cherry’s ill-fated ABC pilot Devious Maids a 13-episode order.

“This show and Marc Cherry’s unique story telling voice perfectly articulate Lifetime’s strategy of attracting top-tier creatives with their most original and exciting projects,” Lifetime prez Nancy Dubuc and EVP Rob Sharenow said in a joint statement.

Loosely based on the Mexican telenovela The Disorderly Maids Of The Neighborhood, Cherry’s Maids follows four ambitious housekeepers (played by Ugly Betty‘s Ana Ortiz, Scrubs‘ Judy Reyes, Heroes‘ Dania Ramirez and Without a Trace‘s Roselyn Sanchez) who work for the rich and famous in Beverly Hills.

Soap icon Susan Lucci was on board to play one maid’s employer, while onetime Melrose Place resident Grant Show and True Blood alum Mariana Klaveno would lord over another, as a successful soap opera hunk and his self-centered actress-wife.

Maids is set to make its Lifetime debut in 2013.

From TVLine.Com

munchman: Things You Didn’t Know About Larry Brody

  1. The first producer to ask LB to pitch him is still in orbit.
  2. In 1976, a William Morris agent turned LB down. The agency is still waiting for all his body parts to turn up.
  3. LB won’t read your damn script because he’s already written it.
  4. God calls LB for notes. And LB’s plenty pissed off because He’s not implementing them.

munchman

Women Producers of the World, Unite!

networking image

A Wake-Up Call for Women Producers

By Barbara Sutton Masry

March may be Women’s History Month, but we should be working actively all year to have more women’s work on film and on stages. We cannot accept the lowly statistics without activism. It’s not that women aren’t writing enough or aren’t trying to get produced. There are a lot of closed doors. Rather than belabor why, we need to cultivate more women producers.

Let’s review what we’ve been taught as young girls that may not have been the best advice. I’m willing to use myself as a guinea pig.

Read it all

NOTE: If you think it was easy finding a “women networking” pic on the interwebs, you don’t know the interwebs. Which makes Ms. Masry’s point at least as well as she does.

ANOTHER NOTE: “Network like crazy,” and “Be a mentor and a mentee” work for everyone, even – gasp – men.