After Daisy Duke, 'Seinfeld' is easy Sitcoms: We've survived the loss of other television comedies, and we'll survive this one. Remember 'Petticoat Junction?'

May 14, 1998|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Did you hear they cured the common cold?

Did you see where scientists can now predict exactly when twisters will hit so no one will get killed again?

Did you read where Ted Marchibroda will be in the sequel to "The Full Monty"?

This has been a test of the emergency news system. Had news actually been committed, you would have missed it -- given the recent hype heaped on one single sitcom. Entire magazines, newspapers, TV shows, Web sites, school curricula, sermons and cookbooks have been devoted to the S-word.

As you have heard to death, "Seinfeld's" 180th and final episode will air tonight in something like a 16-hour telethon. Barring another White House scandal or tobacco settlement, all other regular programming will cease. Children will be allowed to miss school. Prisons will release all inmates. The New York Stock Exchange will close. Cal Ripken will sacrifice his streak.

How will the show end? What will happen to Kramer, George, Elaine and that other guy? What about those wonderful side characters who left indelible marks on our pop culture? Will we, as a nation, be able to rise up tomorrow morning, sans "Seinfeld," and still have the will to live? Or will we, as a nation, go off the air with "Seinfeld"?

No, I say. We must fight the urge to quit. Given our puny TV memories, we should take this moment to remember how it felt when other classic shows deserted us.

Was the country not seriously wounded when "Mister Ed" signed off on Sept. 8, 1965? Yes, but we stuck together through thick -- "Jake and the Fatman" -- and through thin -- "The Courtship of Eddie's Father." It was pure G-rated heck, but we learned that life goes on after TV shows die.

So, if you're planning a wake for "Seinfeld," just remember how the nation felt when these landmark programs bid us good night: "Petticoat Junction," CBS, 1963-70.

"Come ride the little train that is rolling down the tracks at the junction ... Petticoat Junction." Despite the show's innocent fun, the nation held its breath in 1966 when pilot Steve Elliot crashed outside Hooterville. Luckily, he was nursed back to health and even married his nurse, Betty Jo.

(Note: "Petticoat Junction" first introduced us to Eb Dawson, who would appear on "Green Acres" and who would become U.S. Rep. Eb Dawson.)

Incredibly, the show's final telecast received no press. Rolling Stone (its current cover dedicated to the "Seinfeld" cast) had planned to chronicle the final hours on the set in September 1970. Instead, its cover story was on the death of Jimi Hendrix. Hate mail ensued.

"Three's Company," ABC, 1977-84.

Where were you on Sept. 18, 1984, when the last episode aired? No one will forget. Many of us gathered solemnly in homes, churches and schools to say good-bye to Jack Tripper, The Ropers and the incomparable Ralph Furley. For seven years, we exploded in laughter at each zany situation.

Like proud parents, we watched Jack finally earn his chef's diploma. But did Newsweek grace its cover with Chef Tripper? No. The magazine became distracted by some car bomb in Beirut killing 23 people at the U.S. Embassy.

"The Dukes of Hazzard," CBS, 1979-1985.

Before Kramer, Newman and the Soup Nazi, the household names were Enos, Cletus and Cooter. If "Seinfeld" was a show about so-called nothing, "The Dukes of Hazzard" was a real show about real life. We all could relate when Luke and Bo narrowly escaped each week in their Dodge Charger, with Roscoe and Boss Hog (on loan from Scotland Yard) in skillful pursuit.

And when the boys' cousin, Daisy Duke, showed up, it felt like they were doing a TV show about us! Who hasn't had a gorgeous cousin show up unannounced and, more importantly, in cut-off jeans? Who couldn't smile knowingly when Uncle Jesse showed up with the moonshine? With little fanfare, "The Dukes" went off the air in August 1985. The television event was overshadowed by news of a Japanese jumbo jet crashing into a mountain range, killing 517 people -- as if this was important.

The nation did find the inner strength to carry on without Daisy Duke. There was a time of healing.

And in time, we will be able to embrace life without the S-word. Why? Because a far more important S-word lives on, loyal TV disciple: Syndication.

Pub Date: 5/14/98

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