Taking issue with how `TV Guide' ranks shows

May 02, 2002|By KEVIN COWHERD

ONE OF the great things about this business is that you get to nit-pick and second-guess others, something that's so much fun, it's almost indescribable.

So today we take on the folks at TV Guide, who this week list the "50 Greatest Shows of All Time" and have so thoroughly botched the job that ... OK, I take that back.

Botched is too strong a word. Let's just say I have issues with some of their selections. Quite a few of their selections, actually.

Look, I have no problem with Seinfeld at No. 1. Seinfeld was consistently brilliant, at least until its later years when each episode was juggling three and four story lines, one more inane than the next.

And I have no problem with I Love Lucy at No. 2. The Honeymooners at No. 3 seems a stretch - after all, only 39 episodes were shot in the mid-'50s. But there will be no quarrel here with the groundbreaking All in the Family at No. 4 and The Sopranos at No. 5.

(The Sopranos is the best thing I've seen on TV in years. If my buddy Bob Franklin wasn't taping it for me each week, I'd actually consider plunking down the extra dough for HBO. But why should both of us end up in the poorhouse?)

In any event, it's the rest of TV Guide's list that I have problems with, to wit:

How could they leave off The Odd Couple?

A monster hit in the '70s, based on Neil Simon's Broadway play and the movie starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, The Odd Couple introduced us to two of the most enduring comic characters of all time: Felix (Tony Randall), the fussy, neat-freak photographer, and Oscar (Jack Klugman), the gregarious slob of a sportswriter.

If you didn't howl when Oscar had the boys over for poker night, or when Oscar and Felix entertained the air-brained Pigeon Sisters, you didn't have a pulse.

How could they leave off the greatest American detective of all time?

What, you're drawing a blank on this one?

Annoying little guy in a greasy raincoat? Always scratching his head and sucking on a slimy cigar butt? Drove a car so old and battered that crack-heads wouldn't steal it?

Right, where's Columbo?

Peter Falk wins 900 Emmys for best lead in a dramatic series and TV Guide still treats the show like it's Baretta.

How could M*A*S*H not make the Top 10?

M*A*S*H was huge!

The first antiwar comedy series, it arrived in America's living rooms at the perfect time, with the country sick to death of the Vietnam War.

Each week, Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda), Trapper John McIntire (Wayne Rodgers), Lt. Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson), Hot Lips Houlihan (Loretta Swit), Frank Burns (Larry Linville) and Radar O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff) endured the insanity of war with courage and grace and much black humor.

God, I loved that show.

How did St. Elsewhere make the Top 20? (OK, barely at No. 20. But, still.)

Did I miss something here? My wife claims I did. She says St. Elsewhere was the first of its kind: the first hospital show with smart, edgy humor, life-like emergency-room scenes and the honesty to show that even when patients were surrounded by the latest in medical technology and a terrific hospital staff, things could go terribly wrong.

Well, maybe.

To me it was just Dr. Kildare or Ben Casey with sex and attitude.

But no way does it belong in the Top 20. Seeing St. Elsewhere listed among TV's greatest shows is like seeing Adam Sandler listed among Hollywood's greatest actors.

Shows that absolutely do not belong in the Top 50: Frasier (Bob Newhart played a much funnier shrink); The Rockford Files (see earlier riff on Columbo); Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I have a rule: Nothing with vampires is ever any good); Twin Peaks (stylish and different, but only on for a year); Rocky and His Friends (if you're looking for a cartoon comedy, The Flintstones was way better); and Bewitched (a junior-varsity I Dream of Jeannie.)

Two shows that absolutely belong in the Top 50 in addition to The Odd Couple and Columbo:

1. Get Smart: After watching secret agent Maxwell Smart fight the evil forces of K.A.O.S., how could you watch a James Bond movie without busting a gut laughing?

2. SCTV Network 90: The poor man's Saturday Night Live, it ran in the early '80s and introduced us to such incredibly funny characters as Guy Caballero, Edith Prickley, the Schmenge Brothers and Bob and Doug MacKenzie.

(Coincidentally, that was the last time I stayed up until 2 in the morning.)

Next week in this space, we'll explore some of the worst TV shows of all time.

If you have any ideas on the subject, e-mail me at kevin.cow herd@baltsun.com. If they're any good, I might publish them, along with your name.

Sure it's a cheap way to get another column.

But why should I do all the heavy lifting?

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