'Funny Women of TV' is a classy 90 minutes


October 24, 1991|By Michael Hill

Understand going in that "Funny Women of Television" is basically a way of saving "L.A. Law" from the World Series.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that that series premiered for the season, so it's too soon to go to a rerun. Yet you don't want to offend anyone by advancing this season's fresh new storylines while loyal viewers might be away watching the climactic moments of the baseball season.

So, you find an inexpensive special that should appeal to non-baseball fans and stick it on the schedule. Nobody gets hurt. "Funny Women of Television" will air tonight at 9:30 on Channel 2 (WMAR).

That said, understand that this is not some slapped-together piece of garbage. It's a classy number. If you're not into baseball, you'll find this to be an enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes.

"Funny Women of Television" is the first in a series of specials produced by the Museum of Radio and Television. Formerly known as the Museum of Broadcasting, this is a New York institution that has an extensive, fully cataloged collection of television and radio programs that can be viewed or listened to at private consoles at its new 52nd Street building.

In addition, this museum has sponsored various screenings and symposiums on the East and West coasts designed to advance the appreciation of the talent and creativity in these media.

By getting into the special producing business, the Museum of ** Radio and Television is probably looking for the same regular source of revenue that the American Film Institute gets from its well-made yearly tributes to legends of the big screen.

"Funny Women of Television" might have been better had its producer -- Jack Haley Jr. -- conducted a complete search of all the cobwebbed corners of the museum's archives to come up with some real surprises, maybe some names and faces either long-forgotten or always underappreciated.

Instead, it takes the safe road, showing us familiar friends like Mary Richards and Edith Bunker and Alice Kramden and Lucy Ricardo and various characters of Carol Burnett and Lily Tomlin and Gilda Radner.

The clips are arranged in groups according to subject matter -- battle of the sexes, women as housewives, women in the workplace, socially relevant issues etc. Each is introduced by a personality of reasonably high stature -- Mary Tyler Moore, Burnett, Tomlin, Tracey Ullman, Marlo Thomas, Justine Bateman and Jasmine Guy -- who are speaking to a semi-star-studded audience at a Los Angeles theater.

The introductions are the predictable stiff and unfunny stuff -- Ullman, after a bit of brilliant ad libbing, even makes fun of the lines she's given to read off the Teleprompter -- but once the clips start, all is forgiven. (No, trivia buffs, there is none of Bess Armstrong's brilliant work in the short-lived sitcom "All Is Forgiven.")

The clips are great. If all the names and faces are easily recognizable, still these were clearly selected with care. They found Donna Reed on her show and Barbara Billingsley on

"Leave it to Beaver" complaining about the lot of the housewife.

Sure there are oft-seen scenes -- Lucy watching cross-eyed as William Holden sets her false nose on fire, Mary interviewing with Lou Grant for her job, Maude deciding to have an abortion, Murphy deciding to have the baby -- but there are plenty that might have slipped the memory.

Savor the several moments of brutal but honest battle between the Alice and Ralph Kramden, some of Tomlin's work you may have missed, a couple of great bits on mothers talking to their kids about sex from "Kate & Allie" and "Roseanne."

The evening's proceedings are topped off by a nice behind-the-scenes visit with two of the most important women in television -- Diane English, who created "Murphy Brown," and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who did the same for "Designing Women" -- and a perfunctory visit to the New York museum narrated by Mike Wallace.

"Funny Women of Television" is not a ground-breaking, can't-miss show. But don't be put off by that title. This is not some out-takes, bloopers or home video show. It's a classy look at some first-class talents.

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