Thursday, April 19, 2018

Classic Family Sitcoms: Are They Unrealistic?

Perhaps the most frequent observation about family situation comedies in the Comfort TV era, especially among those who dislike them, is that they are unrealistic because they present an idealized view of family life. In fact, this viewpoint is now so ubiquitous that even folks who enjoy these shows largely accept it. 

But I don’t. Never have, and never will.

Before anyone objects, let’s take a closer look at the term ‘idealized.’

The Oxford Dictionary defines something idealized as “regarded or represented as perfect or better than in reality.”

That’s actually two definitions, as “perfect” is hardly the same as “better than in reality.” Marilyn Monroe was better than reality. Audrey Hepburn was perfect.

So thinking back on any of these shows from the 1950s - 1970s, did they portray an American family as perfect? I don’t think so.

To me perfect connotes an absence of conflict; a life free from worry over health issues or money issues or relationship troubles.  But these topics were frequently explored in sitcoms from this era. Granted, problems were almost always resolved with no real harm done, but I can provide dozens of examples of episodes where a dream job didn’t come through, or the boy a young girl had a crush on didn’t ask her to the dance, or a chance at public acclaim turned instead into a moment of embarrassment.  These were struggles that would have been familiar to any viewers at home.  

With “perfect” off the table, those seeking to make this case must now try and prove “better than reality.” That should be pretty easy, right?

This is where you get people saying things like “Father Knows Best was idealized because Robert Young was a kind, understanding dad, but my dad was a drunk with a bad temper,” or “the kids on The Brady Bunch always had money to buy new clothes and go out on dates, but in my family we had to struggle just to pay the bills and put food on the table.”

Well…okay. But we have to acknowledge that no television show could ever encapsulate a recognizable reality for everyone in such a large and diverse nation. So it’s unfair to expect Leave it To Beaver or The Donna Reed Show or The Cosby Show to epitomize everyone’s personal experience. 

But if these shows managed to approximate the real lives of some families in America, then that “better than reality” indictment is nullified. And I believe they do.

If you disagree, then you would need to offer examples of situations or behaviors from episodes of these shows that would not be achievable by a real family in the era the episode aired. If anyone tries, I’ll look forward to those responses.

Shows like Roseanne have exacerbated this assessment. “Now that’s a real family!” you hear critics rave, and perhaps those caustic (but still loving) relationships are indeed more familiar to a higher percentage of the viewing audience. My parents never spoke to each other the way the Conners do, so for me that show was a reality I didn’t recognize. 

What saddens me most about this topic is how readily we dismiss happy, loving, well-adjusted traditional families as an impossible fantasy. What does that say about us: that a series about a middle-class couple and their kids can be put into the same category as a show about a man with a talking horse?

The more this perception persists, the more grateful I am for these shows, and for the DVDs and cable networks that continue to air them every day. In a culture that continually celebrates the lowest common denominator, they represent what is possible when we treat those closest to us with patience, tolerance and compassion. 

If you see your childhood in these shows, as I often do, then you have been blessed. If you didn’t, then aspire to them as a reality worth pursuing, and a road map for how to get there. It's not as hard as you might think.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Five Pieces You Won’t See on Comfort TV

If I didn’t have to work for a living, I’m sure I could update this blog twice a week for the rest of my life, and never run out of topics to explore.

The problem has never been ideas but having enough time to write about them. However, that doesn’t mean all my ideas are good. Here are five pieces I considered, and in some cases even started, but then abandoned because there just wasn’t enough ‘there’ there.

Top TV Moments: Marj Dusay
Most TV fans may recognize Marj Dusay from extended stints on Santa Barbara, All My Children and Guiding Light. But prior to her love-in-the-afternoon days, Dusay also had a busy career guest starring on dozens of Comfort TV staples, from Bonanza to The Bionic Woman.

When I looked back on her career I found a few unique moments, such as her appearances in Hogan’s Heroes and as a villainous space-babe in the infamous Star Trek episode “Spock’s Brain.” 

However, most of her roles were standard wife and girlfriend parts on shows like Mannix and Quincy, and not really worth seeking out. It wouldn’t surprise me if Dusay kept getting stuck with scripts already turned down by Lee Meriwether, who had a similar look but bigger name recognition thanks to her Miss America crown.

The Oliver Awards: Saluting Classic TV’s Most Unnecessary Characters
This one seemed stale before I even began to write it. Classic TV fans should already be weary of dumping on Cousin Oliver and Ricky Segall and Scrappy-Doo.

There would have been less prominent nominees as well: How could a show called Eight is Enough ignore its own title and introduce a ninth kid? The addition of Jeremy (Ralph Macchio) sadly disrupted the family chemistry in the series' fifth and final season.

I also skip the Father Knows Best episodes featuring landscaper Frank (pronounced ‘Fronk’ for some inexplicable reason). And I still wonder how Wings’ Budd Bronski was ever considered a worthy replacement for fan-favorite Lowell. 

Seven Great Characters Trapped in Substandard Shows
That’s a good title, isn’t it? I thought it might be interesting to celebrate memorable television characters that were not memorable enough to save their respective series. Think Robert Urich as the egotistical, womanizing talk show host Paul Thurston on Tabitha, or Jack Sheldon as John Davidson’s spaced out brother in The Girl With Something Extra

From Joanna Cassidy in 240-Robert to Delta Burke in Filthy Rich, there are several intriguing nominees, but then the entire piece would be about shows that very few people have watched, or would be interested in watching. I still might do it, though. If I do forget I said anything here.

Top TV Moments: Brenda Benet
I’ve probably started this piece a dozen times over the past year, only to postpone it again in favor of other topics. It’s hard to write about Brenda Benet without feeling sad, and if you know anything of her life you already know why.

She has such wonderful Comfort TV credentials, having been married to both Paul Petersen and Bill Bixby, and she left some really interesting work behind. But knowing what life held in store for her, it sometimes makes it difficult to watch her in lighthearted shows like Wonder Woman, Fantasy Island and Love, American Style.

The Facts of Life book I Almost Wrote
About 15 years ago, I had a fairly long exchange of phone calls and emails with Lisa Whelchel’s ‘people’ about either writing a TV companion book to The Facts of Life, or serving as Whelchel’s ghost writer or editor on a book about the series. 

Obviously nothing came of this, and there still hasn’t been a book about the show. But there were some interesting ideas tossed around back then, and looking back I think it would have been a fun project to work on.

My guess is that the interviews would have been easy to arrange through Whelchel’s help, with Nancy McKeon as the only critical “will she or won’t she” project participant. George Clooney and Molly Ringwald would have been long shots, but I’m guessing Julie Anne Haddock might have been available. 

I never spoke to Lisa directly about the book. Had that happened this would have been a more appealing ‘what might have been’ story. But I didn’t, so it’s not. My one chance to meet Pippa, gone forever. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Still More Retro TV Nights

As with my two previous pieces on this topic, I’ve selected some stellar programming lineups from the Comfort TV era that can now be recreated thanks to the availability of their shows on DVD (or on retro TV networks like Decades).

While the volume of classic TV releases has slowed considerably in recent years, enough new titles have appeared to fill in some gaps and make more of these nostalgic experiences possible.

So let’s journey back once more to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when there were just three networks, cable was what allowed Ma Bell to hook up your telephone, and satellites were used only for spying on Russians.

ABC: Saturday, 1983

T.J. Hooker
The Love Boat
Fantasy Island

Escapism was the aspiration here, as it often was on Saturdays in the Comfort TV era. With adults off from work and kids off from school, networks delivered shows that specialized in diversion. T.J. Hooker didn’t have the exotic locales of the series that followed, but its depiction of an L.A. cop’s crusade to clean up the streets was about as credible as anything cooked up by Mr. Roarke and Tattoo. 

Added bonus: The possibility of seeing Heather Locklear on all three shows. 

CBS: Monday, 1979

The White Shadow
WKRP In Cincinnati
Lou Grant

Here’s the kind of prestige programming schedule viewers came to expect from the Tiffany network. All four series in this esteemed lineup received Emmy Awards (not in a major category for WKRP, but stars Howard Hesseman and Loni Anderson were nominated). 

All of these shows lived authentically in their environments. The White Shadow never whitewashed the challenges faced by inner city high schools. The M*A*S*H condemnation of Vietnam (by way of Korea) captured the insanity of war, from recurring battles over useless territory to doctors patching up young soldiers so they could go out and get shot again. The backdrop was more benign on WKRP in Cincinnati but just as true-to-life. Anyone who worked radio at that time could identify with its bizarre tales of eccentric talent, crazy on-air promotions and gimmicks to boost ratings.

And Lou Grant? Simply the best show about journalism ever created. I wish its portrayal of that profession was still considered a model for how to do it right. 

CBS: Saturday, 1961

Perry Mason
The Defenders
Have Gun, Will Travel

How remarkable was it to have the opportunity to watch television’s two best legal dramas back-to-back, without even getting up to change the channel? 

Start with these shows, in which lawbreakers are read their rights and tried in a court of law, and follow that up with two shows in which justice was delivered without the need for lawyers, judges and juries. 

NBC: Friday, 1986

The A-Team
Miami Vice
L.A. Law

There’s something appropriate about the progression here from outlaws to police to lawyers, a familiar pattern in crime and punishment. But I would define this lineup more as a study of professionals at work. Start the evening with a crack military squad helping the innocent (and firing thousands of bullets in every episode that never hit anyone). 

Move on to a team of detectives making Miami in the ‘80s slightly less scuzzy; and then head up into a spectacular downtown Los Angeles skyscraper to sit in on a meeting with McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak, where cases are rarely lost despite all the inter-office couplings. Just don’t forget to look down before you get on the elevator. 

CBS: Saturday, 1972

All in the Family
Bridget Loves Bernie
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
The Bob Newhart Show
Mission: Impossible

Not as perfect as the now-legendary CBS Saturday lineup of the following year, when Carol Burnett replaced the IM Force in the 10pm timeslot (providing a less jarring transition from the easygoing Bob Newhart Show) and M*A*S*H replaced Bridget Loves Bernie, which deserved a better fate. Still, there’s not a bad show in the bunch. 

CBS: Saturday Morning, 1976

Sylvester & Tweety
The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour
Ark II
Clue Club

Saturday morning lineups from the Comfort TV era are hard to recreate, because there is almost always one show in the schedule that was short-lived and not likely to be shown again or released on DVD. But here’s one that can be done, even if you have to cheat by using the Warner Brothers Looney Tune anthologies for the material aired as Sylvester & Tweety and The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour.

After that, settle in for a mini-marathon of Filmation classics, starting with the animated Tarzan series, which has been praised as one of the more faithful adaptations of the Edgar Rice Burroughs books. 

The Shazam/Isis Hour and Ark II are delightful throwbacks to when live-action science fiction and superhero stories delivered thrills on what appeared to be a ten-dollar per episode budget. 

Round out the morning with Clue Club, the best of Hanna-Barbera’s countless Scooby-Doo knockoffs. Some of the mysteries here, such as “The Disappearing Airport Caper” and “The Dissolving Statue Caper,” are still pretty clever. You may not guess the solution before Larry, Pepper, D.D. and Dottie. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Beyond the Bunch: The Brady Kids’ Best Non-Brady Roles

The six actors who portrayed the Brady kids never found other roles that had the same popular or cultural impact. 

That’s not a condemnation of their talents, as the same could be said of many Comfort TV-era sitcom kids. In fact, a glance at their sparse non-Brady credit lists after the series suggests that most of them, after perhaps one too many typecasting rejection, just accepted their fates and were content to wait for the next reunion.

But if you’re curious to see them away from Westdale High, the Grand Canyon or that mysterious commode-free bathroom, here are my selections for the most memorable non-Brady roles of the bunch.

Susan Olsen
One year before The Brady Bunch debuted, the youngest one in curls appeared in “Paint Your Waggedorn,” a first-season episode of Julia that offered a sincere if simplistic examination of prejudice. She plays Pamela, a visiting grandchild of one of Julia’s neighbors, who spends a day playing with Julia’s son Corey and his best friend, Earl J. Waggedorn. When grandma and grandpa find their walls covered in crayon drawings, they immediately pin it on the black kid, though Pamela is later revealed as the guilty party. The older folks learn their lesson.

Two things stood out to me about this episode. First, Corey suggesting a game of cowboys and Indians, so he can be the Indian and “pretend we’ve captured a white woman.” It’s one of those lines that comes out of nowhere and reminds us of what TV was like before cultural sensitivity training. The other is how Olsen, even at this young age, is already acting circles around series regulars Marc Copage (Corey) and Michael Link (Earl). 

Mike Lookinland
Lookinland had just four post-Brady credits unrelated to that series. The most substantive was in the Secrets of Isis episode “To Find a Friend” shot in the year between the end of The Brady Bunch and the start of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour.

Every episode of this series featured a kid that had to be sorted out by Isis, and here it’s friendless Tom Anderson (Lookinland), who steals his father’s gun to trade it for a ride on a stranger’s dirt bike. Of course, that kid steals the gun and Tom doesn’t even get his ride. Regular visitors to this blog already know how much I love this show, so this would be an easy choice even if the only other contenders for Lookinland were not glorified walk-ons. 

Eve Plumb
If I were basing choices on personal enjoyment, I’d opt for her appearance on Here’s Lucy as a teenager in love with guest-star Donny Osmond. 

But with Eve Plumb there’s no escaping the more prominent and once salacious legacy of Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway (1976).

It’s one of the rare 1970s TV movies that still get talked about from time to time. But unlike Brian’s Song and The Night Stalker, which people remember because they were really great, Dawn was noticed because it delivered a Brady as a teenage prostitute. 

It’s not a good movie, and Eve Plumb is not particularly good in it. But it is certainly a memorable relic of its time. If you’ve never watched it, proceed with caution – the scene in which William Schallert takes Jan Brady back to a cheap Hollywood motel room can scar a classic TV fan for life.

Christopher Knight
“Max” (1977) is one of the more unusual episodes of The Bionic Woman, as the bionic woman herself is hardly in it. With Jaime Sommers confined to the hospital for a 50,000-mile tune up, the spotlight shifts to a bionic German Shepherd named Max. Christopher Knight plays Bobby, the teenage nephew of the dog’s guardian. It’s a substantial role that carries the episode and he handles it well, even when he has to channel Jon Provost for the dialogue scenes with a dog.  

Maureen McCormick
It’s not surprising that the girl who played overachiever Marcia appeared in more interesting non-Brady projects than any of her TV siblings. Before the series, a very tiny Maureen played young Endora in two episodes of Bewitched, and the rottenest of rotten kids in the Honey West episode “In the Bag.” 

After the show you’ll catch her in a dozen or so guest spots on The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, and once again playing the daughter of Robert Reed in a 1978 episode of Vega$ called “The Pageant.” 

But the one I keep coming back to “Street Games,” a 1975 episode of Harry O. She plays Nancy Wayne, a pregnant, drug-addicted runaway who witnesses the murder of her junkie boyfriend, and is now on the run from his killers. Given her own struggles with addiction, it’s not always pleasant watching her fiddle with a cigarette in a trash-strewn alley, or going through a traumatic withdrawal. Even stranger and sadder is the scene where Nancy tries to score from another addict played by Lani O’Grady, who lost her own battle with addiction back in 2001. It sticks with you.

Barry Williams
No other Brady Brunch cast member embraced his Brady status more than Barry Williams. I believe he still occasionally appears in 70’s-themed concerts, where he gamely dons the matador suit of Johnny Bravo and transports audiences back to simpler and happier times. I'm tempted to select his appearance as an altar boy in Dragnet's Christmas episode, as it's one I look forward to watching every year.

But I must choose “Up In the Air” (1982) from Three's Company, as it is widely considered the series’ best episode. At a party for a man Janet is trying to impress (played by Williams), Jack gets loopy on booze and tranquilizers, and John Ritter delivers a master class in physical comedy. It’s Ritter's show, but Williams carries off the straight man role with aplomb. 

And if you’re looking for a selection for Robbie Rist, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Unshakeables

A television show succeeds if it holds your attention for the time it’s on. 

But some episodes stay with you long after the credits roll. The emotions they generate do not dissipate for several minutes – sometimes several hours. And when you think about them months or even years later, you find the imprint they left on your mind remains as formidable as ever.

I call these shows “Unshakeables.” And I can’t think of a better example than “The Invasion of Kevin Ireland,” a 1971 episode of The Bold Ones: The Lawyers.

Never heard of it? That’s not surprising. It’s so obscure now I couldn’t find a single photo from it to run with this piece. 

But that’s one of the wonderful things about television; there’s been so much of it over so many years that it’s still possible to come across an extraordinary piece of art that has lain dormant for decades, just waiting to be rediscovered.

When “The Invasion of Kevin Ireland” first aired, however, its quality did not go unnoticed. The script by Jack B. Sowards was printed in the Congressional Record after being praised on the floor of the United States Senate by Senator William Proxmire. Its director, Alexander Singer, won the Emmy that year for Outstanding Direction of a Drama Series.

And here’s the best news – the series is out on DVD. So it’s not as obscure as it used to be.

The episode begins with a courtroom trial, crosscut with scenes of the man in the witness stand destroying computers and other electronic equipment in a deserted office after dark. He continues his rampage until a security guard stops him.

He is Kevin Ireland, now on trial for destruction of private property, as well as breaking and entering. While his guilt is not in question, Kevin’s attorney, Walter Nichols, persuades the judge that the reasons for his client’s behavior are relevant to the case.

Thus, Kevin recounts his story, which we see in selective flashbacks. It begins as a portrait of a happy, successful executive, husband and father. When his employer is acquired by a larger firm that brings in its own personnel, Kevin finds himself out of work, along with many of his associates. He immediately begins sending out resumes, confident that the ten years he spent there and a glowing recommendation from his previous employer will generate job offers.

But no offers arrive. Over the next two years he loses his house, his wife, and much of his self-respect. Desperate, he confronts a former coworker who reveals that a dossier critical of his character had circulated among potential employers, all of whom now rely on such investigative reports before hiring new executives.

Kevin hires an attorney to gain access to the dossier, prepared by “Corporate Research Associates,” which contains allegations that are inaccurate and misleading. A claim that he threw wild parties, for instance, omitted the fact that the charge came from a former neighbor who made the same accusation toward every other homeowner in the community.

The representative of the investigative firm conceded that his staff did not have the time or the budget to double-check any of the information in the profiles, because it wouldn’t be “economically feasible.” Throughout the trial he remains unmoved and unapologetic over destroying Kevin Ireland’s life. His was the company where Kevin committed his crimes.

The case goes to the jury and there is a verdict, but that’s not where the episode ends. For the benefit of anyone who has not watched this exceptional hour of television, and may now wish to do so, I’ll leave you to discover what happens next.

The following statement appears at the episode’s close: “On April 25, 1971, Congress enacted legislation which gives every American the right to know the nature and substance of all personal information concerning him that has been compiled by a private company and to contest and correct any errors he might find in that information. These companies, however, retain the right to investigate any area of a person's private life, relevant to their purposes or not.”

Senator Proxmire’s admiration was based in how the show illustrated what can happen when such erroneous documents are compiled, and how it gave the public a chance to “see the human side of the law.”

However outstanding “The Invasion of Kevin Ireland” may have read on the page, it is further elevated through being brought to life by an extraordinary cast. Darren McGavin plays Kevin Ireland, and for many of you that will be enough said already. It’s hard to imagine anyone (okay, maybe William Windom) playing this tragic downward journey and its accompanying range of emotions as movingly. 

Director Alexander Singer shoots many of McGavin’s scenes in close-up, especially while he’s on the witness stand. It’s a wise decision. More than any other component in this remarkable hour of television, it is McGavin who makes this episode unshakeable.

Dana Elcar, usually an actor that specialized in affable characters, is chilling here as Mr. Gale, representative of Corporate Research Associates. He gets no first name, which I’m sure is intentional. Elcar plays Gale as unfailingly polite, soft-spoken, and utterly without any shred of conscience. Is he an evil man? It’s an interesting question that might spark an equally interesting debate. 

Burl Ives is top-billed in The Bold Ones: The Lawyers as attorney Walter Nichols. He maintains a jovial unflappability throughout the series as he defends clients both innocent and guilty. But here, confronted with such insouciance by Corporate Research Associates in the face of the damage they’ve caused, he can barely control his contempt. His closing statement to the jury is yet another standout moment in a remarkable show. 

I can’t put myself in the place of someone who watched this episode in 1971, but viewed in 2018 the story remains not just powerful but frighteningly prescient. 

Consider how much more of our existence has now been compiled into digital files and shared with or without our knowledge. Corporate Research Associates didn’t have the time or the budget to authenticate the information in its reports. Are the thousands of online “news” sources around today any better? How many reputations now are sullied by what is now called fake news?   

I hope I’ve succeeded in conveying how compelling this episode is. If you appreciate quality television, it is worth your time to seek out.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Comfort TV Walks Into a Psychiatrist’s Office…

Rob Petrie: What do you think, Phil?
Psychatrist: What do you think?
Rob: Well, I... I thought I'd come over here and find out what you think.
Psychiatrist: What I think doesn't matter. It's what you think.
Rob: Well, what I think you think?
Psychiatrist: No, what you think you think.
Rob: I don't know what to think.

--“The Brave and the Backache” (1964)

As this exchange from The Dick Van Dyke Show illustrates, perhaps no other profession has been more lampooned by the Comfort TV era than that of psychiatrist. 

Was this merely an example of irony in humor, to make therapists as addled as their patients? Perhaps – but I would suggest that more people were dubious about this entire discipline of medical science in the 1950s-1970s, and these shows reflected that belief that all this head-shrinking stuff was a bunch of double talk and hooey.

Today, when half the world is in therapy for something, television has responded accordingly with more sympathetic portrayals (The Sopranos, Huff, Private Practice).

As with so many other elements of classic TV, there was predictability to encounters with psychiatrists. Once a story headed in that direction, savvy viewers figured they could look forward to scenes built around at least one of these two experiments.

The Ink Blot Test
Is this still part of the therapist’s arsenal, or has it been undermined by decades of sitcoms in which everyone looked at a blotch of black ink and saw something pornographic? To F Troop’s Corporal Agarn it was “a beautiful Indian girl in a short skirt bending over a campfire,” to which Roaring Chicken responds, “I like your ink blot better than mine.”

On The Golden Girls, Dorothy interpreted an ink blot as “John Forsythe lying naked in a pool of honey.” And after a psychiatrist questions why Maxwell Smart thought every blot was a couple hugging or kissing, Max responds, “You’re the one with the dirty pictures.”

That Girl built an entire episode around ink blots. In “There’s Nothing to Be Afraid of But Freud Himself,” Donald interviews an Italian psychiatrist who has developed a more accurate way to use them to identify personality traits. Ann thinks one of them looks like a spider, and discovers that means she is stubborn, argumentative and impulsive. When Don hesitates to question that verdict it almost ends their relationship.

And here’s a photo of the psychiatrist. Certainly looks trustworthy to me. 

The Word Association Test
“I’ll say a word, and you say the first word that pops into your head.”
The most famous TV example of this is a Saturday Night Live sketch with Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor that can’t be quoted here. 

But it also dates as far back as Gilligan’s Island and The Donna Reed Show, when Mary uses it on her friends and is dismayed to find that the word most associated with her is “wholesome.”

Once again, the comic potential in such scenes is abundant, as when Cousin Itt takes the test on The Addams Family:

Mortimer Phelps: [to Itt] Now I'll say a word and you say whatever pops into your mind. Uh... bird.
Gomez: Vulture.
Morticia: Molting.
Gomez: Mating.
Morticia: Nesting.
Gomez: Billing.
Morticia: Cooing.
Gomez: Lips.
Morticia: Red.
Gomez: Kiss me!
Mortimer Phelps: Please! Now, I will not tolerate any more interruptions.
Gomez: Really, old man, you don't understand true love when you see it.

In season three of Bewitched, Endora conjures up Sigmund Freud to settle a fight between Samantha and Darren in “I’d Rather Twitch Than Fight,” while Larry and Louise Tate offer the services of their psychiatrist for the same reason. 

When the two doctors meet, their disagreement about the root of the argument almost results in a fistfight. Think of it – two learned men trusted with helping a couple to avoid conflict threaten to beat each other up. Once again, psychiatry does not fare well.

Comfort TV’s most prominent headshrinker was Dr. (“dur”) Bob Hartley on The Bob Newhart Show (until Frasier Crane, but he practiced mostly in a later TV era). Bob was a psychologist, not a psychiatrist, though that distinction was irrelevant to those tuning in on Saturday nights in the 1970s. 

We never saw Dr. Hartley delve very deeply into his patients’ problems, though obviously that was not the point of the show. Was he good at his job? Considering he was still seeing Mr. Carlin and Mr. Peterson after six years, one suspects whatever he tried wasn’t working.

Dr. Alfred Bellows on I Dream of Jeannie was a psychiatrist, though you’d also occasionally see him conducting physical exams. The show’s best recurring gag would have Bellows enter a room just after Jeannie caused some chaos, leaving poor Tony to explain why it’s snowing over his house, or why there were circus animals in his living room.

In season four’s “Dr. Bellows Goes Sane,” Bellows compiles three years of such bizarre incidents into a dossier presented to General Peterson. Upon reading it, he decides it is Bellows who is ready for a padded cell. The doctor is fired, and replaced by another psychiatrist (wonderfully played by the equally batty Joe Flynn).

And while it wasn’t commonly referred to in the series, Dr. Zachary Smith on Lost in Space was an intergalactic doctor of environmental psychology. Again, not exactly a role model for the profession. 

Was there any Comfort TV shrink you’d trust with your mental health? I’d nominate Dr. Sidney Freedman, who made occasional visits to the 4077 on M*A*S*H. As played by Allan Arbus, his most famous quote was “Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice…pull down your pants and slide on the ice.”
But when the series turned serious, as when Hawkeye was on the verge of a breakdown, or a wounded soldier believed he was Jesus, Sidney brought them safely back to reality, as awful as that wartime reality was.

And to think we haven’t even covered the TV sub-trope of sinister psychiatrists, like the one that transferred Steed and Mrs. Peel’s consciousness into two enemy agents in “Who’s Who?” (The Avengers). Something to save for another time.