Has any generation been so enamoured with its past as the...

TV REVIEW

February 15, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Has any generation been so enamoured with its past as the baby boomers? Has any generation been so courted by advertisers through a television industry that seems to be continually celebrating that past?

Those are the kinds of questions some viewers may be asking themselves after the 1960s-and-'70s-nostalgia-rama CBS is serving up in prime time the next few days.

Saturday night at 8, it's the "All in the Family 20th Anniversary Special." Sunday at 9, it's the "Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show" with Carol Burnett as host. And Monday at 9:30, CBS airs the "Mary Tyler Moore 20th Anniversary Show." All are on WBAL-TV (Channel 11).

On one hand -- the business one -- this "Classic Three Day Weekend," as CBS is calling it, exists because CBS is a network with a lot of past and notmuch present when it comes to great programming.

But forget that for the weekend, and enjoy these shows as nostalgia and popular culture. In that sense, they are a delight.

The weakest of the three is Saturday's "All in the Family" special.

The format consists of Norman Lear, who produced the series, introducing clips from the show. There are interviews with series regulars Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers. There are also excerpts from recent interviews with viewers who wrote to the show when it was in first run during the 1970s.

There are impressive scenes: Christmas dinner when Archie ordered a guest out of the house because he discovered the young man was a draft dodger. Mike and Gloria saying goodbye to Edith and Archie. Sammy Davis Jr. kissing Archie.

What is a bit disappointing is to see how much "All in the Family" was a show of its time, the Nixon years of the Silent Majority. That's what good TV should be, of course.

But "All in the Family" is not much more than that. It does not continue to resonate. And, somehow, this viewer thought it would.

"The Very Best of Ed Sullivan" is a historical piece, too. But it is a such a fabulous smorgasbord of American popular culture in the 1960s and '70s that it literally shimmers with insights into the way we were and how that helped make us the way we are.

The reason for the appeal Sullivan's show had for 23 years is apparent. Before television came to dominate our culture and change our notions of fame and celebrity, America seemed to be divided into two worlds -- the world of our street or neighborhood and the world "out there" of fame and celebrity. Sullivan brought that world of celebrity into our living rooms each Sunday.

There are two hours of great segments. Judy Garland breaking your heart. Sammy Davis and Ella Fitzgerald knocking you out. Barbra Streisand. Mick Jagger. Alan King. Even Senor Wences and the guy who spins plates atop sticks seem great.

But the real gem is Monday's Mary Tyler Moore special. The format is a tad hokey. Moore, Ed Asner, Georgia Engel, Valerie Harper, Gavin MacLeod, Betty White and Cloris Leachman sit in a studio version of a suburban living room watching clips from the show on a TV, wiping tears from their cheeks or hugging.

But, ah, the clips. If "All in the Family" seems less than you remember its being, the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" seems like more -- lots more.

The greatest revelation: Moore as an actress. She was every bit as good in this show as Lucille Ball was in "I Love Lucy," except Moore played more cerebral, while Ball played slapstick.

The other stunner is how prescient the series was about women's roles and men's and women's relationships.

This is the special not to be missed. And stay with it to the very end. It closes with Mary singing "One More for the Road." It will make you forget your favorite Lucy performance.

If you are a baby boomer, it may also leave you staring at the screen like Narcissus looking at the water, transfixed by what you see of yourself reflected in the image.

Baby boomers get chance to stroll down the memory lane of their TV childhood

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