Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Once and For All: Are the 1980s “Comfort TV”?

When I started this blog, I defined Comfort TV as the television era that covers the 1950s through the 1980s. I even wrote a piece last year about evaluating 1989 as the final year of the classic TV era.

But lately I’ve been having second thoughts.

It’s true that the communal pop culture experience television once provided was still accessible in the 1980s, and didn’t disappear completely until the following decade.

However, as I review lists of the top shows from that decade I have to admit that, while I watched and enjoyed many of them, I don’t feel the same nostalgic fondness for them that I do for shows from the 1960s and ‘70s. They are also significantly under-represented in my otherwise voluminous TV-on-DVD collection. 

There is also the fact that I hold membership in two Facebook groups devoted to classic TV, that both use 1979 as a cut-off point. One of them is quite militant about it.

So it’s time to take a fresh look at the 1980s, and decide once and for all whether it deserves continued coverage in this blog. I figured the best way to do this is to review the shows that debuted between 1980 and 1989, and determine if they meet the criteria of Comfort TV.

This was a bad year for TV, Comfort or otherwise, with very few debuting series surviving beyond one season. Its biggest trend was repackaging successful concepts through sequels and spinoffs: Sanford, Enos, Flo, Galactica 1980, The Flintstones Comedy Show, Scooby-Doo and Scrappy Doo, and Beyond Westworld. None of them worked, but it’s interesting how television was already feeling nostalgic. 

The year’s three most successful sitcom debuts didn’t last much longer: Bosom Buddies, It’s a Living, and Too Close for Comfort. I like Bosom Buddies and own the DVDs, and would buy It’s a Living if music rights were not keeping it out of the home video market. Still, not a great opening argument for keeping the ‘80s in this blog. The only new show from this year that meets all of the Comfort TV criteria is Magnum, P.I., a worthy entry in the private eye genre. 

The repackaging craze continued this year with The Brady Brides, Bret Maverick, Checking In (a Jeffersons spinoff), a cartoon version of Laverne & Shirley, and sitcom adaptations of the films Foul Play, Harper Valley PTA, Private Benjamin and Walking Tall.  

Thankfully Steven Bochco proved the medium hadn’t completely run out of original ideas with Hill Street Blues. Its abrasive language, frank portrayals of sex and violence, and handheld camerawork that put viewers inside an inner city police station, sometimes uncomfortably so, all represented a sea change in dramatic television. It’s also the first sign that we’ve entered a post-Comfort TV era.

However, there were also more traditional shows that debuted that year with varying degrees of success – Code Red, The Fall Guy, Father Murphy, The Greatest American Hero, Nero Wolfe, Nurse, and The Two of Us. And the prime time soaps Dynasty and Falcon Crest have retained their ostentatious, over-the-top appeal. 

So that’s one year for, one year against.

The pro-Comfort TV ‘80s lobby gets a big boost from 1982 with the debuts of Cheers, Cagney and Lacey, Fame, Family Ties, Knight Rider, Newhart, Remington Steele, Silver Spoons and Tucker’s Witch (which I liked even if nobody else did). Only St. Elsewhere and Square Pegs anticipate the edgier fare of the 1990s and beyond. 

It’s not Comfort TV…it’s HBO. This was the year that the pay-cable network introduced America Undercover, the documentary series that spawned Autopsy, Real Sex and Taxicab Confessions, all of which are galaxies away from Father Knows Best. Back on the broadcast networks, shows like Bay City Blues and Buffalo Bill stretched the boundaries of their respective genres. And the shows that followed more traditional formats – Cutter to Houston, Emerald Point N.A.S., Hardcastle and McCormick, Scarecrow and Mrs. King – just weren’t very good. Only Hotel, Goodnight, Beantown and the miniseries V bring back any fond memories for me.  

The Cosby Show, Highway to Heaven, Kate & Allie and Murder She Wrote were the year’s best Comfort TV debuts, and some would put Who’s the Boss and Night Court in that category as well. Miami Vice was cool back then but hasn’t aged well.  Still, the first half of the decade continued to introduce shows that fit well with the archetypes of decades past. 

Joining the ranks of shows befitting the Comfort TV standard were The Golden Girls, Growing Pains and McGyver. But the best new show that year was Moonlighting, a series that didn’t fit into any previous mold ­­- even the Emmys had trouble deciding whether it belonged in the comedy or drama category. During that same season, Comfort TV stars Lucie Arnaz, Mary Tyler Moore and Patty Duke all starred in new shows that flopped. That’s not a good sign. 

Can the failure of Life With Lucy be interpreted as the door closing on the classic TV era? Or was it just not a very good show? Either way, it seems like a pivotal moment when audiences are no longer interested in watching Lucille Ball in prime time. 

I enjoyed Head of the Class and Perfect Strangers but not much else from 1986, though clearly Matlock belongs in the Comfort TV category given how often it has been rerun since.

The shows that generated the most headlines in 1987 were those well outside Comfort TV Land – Married With Children, The Morton Downey Jr. Show, Max Headroom, Thirtysomething and Wiseguy. However, Full House and My Two Dads proved there were still sitcoms suitable for a family audience, and Star Trek: The Next Generation proved it was possible to revive a classic property with a quality that rivaled (surpassed?) its predecessor. 

And as we near the end of the decade, Comfort TV contenders continue to dwindle. The Wonder Years qualifies, and I guess Empty Nest does as well, but that’s about it. Roseanne was the year’s most successful and buzzworthy series, but like Married With Children it featured a family unit that no one would ever confuse with the Bradys or the Nelsons or even the Huxtables. As for Murphy Brown, it was obviously a huge hit, but no Comfort TV series would purposely alienate half its audience by taking sides in the nation’s political divide. 

As I covered in my aforementioned piece on 1989, this was the year when reality shows like COPS, Rescue 911 and America’s Funniest Home Videos began stealing prime time slots from scripted shows. It was the year that long running game shows like Card Sharks, Sale of the Century and Super Password all left the air. It was the year that introduced Seinfeld and The Simpsons, two cynical and subversive sitcoms that audiences loved – it’s hard to imagine that same audience also enjoying the few, more traditional shows that also debuted that year, like Coach and Major Dad. The viewers have spoken.

So what’s the verdict?

I’d say it’s clear that the 1980s were indeed the transitional decade between the more traditional, uplifting, family-friendly shows of TV’s first age, and the current anything-goes, time-shifting, niche-viewing broadcast climate we’re in today. I understand why some classic TV groups and sites prefer to draw the line at 1979, but for me there were still - barely - enough shows introduced in the 1980s that belonged to the same universe as the Comfort TV shows of the past.

And so, while it’s a close call, we’re going to keep the 1980s under the Comfort TV era banner. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Top TV Moments: Season Hubley

Not long ago I read Paul Mavis’s review of the 1985 TV movie The Key To Rebecca at the Drunk TV website. As always Mavis was insightful, acerbic, and unapologetically lascivious in his assessment, but my biggest takeaway from the piece was a reminder of how I’ve always been drawn to one of Rebecca’s costars, Season Hubley. 

With her pixie haircut and soulful eyes, Hubley seemed the personification of flower child innocence – even her name fit that hippie-dippie persona. But she was also often cast as a streetwise go-getter with a hard edge beneath that soft smile.

Unfortunately, she spent most of her career being better than her material, and only occasionally finding a part worthy of her talent and unique personality. About 20 years ago she finally gave up, at least according to IMDB; but she does have a Facebook page that she uses to support animal causes and bash Donald Trump. And so it goes.

Now let’s cast our memories back to the magical 1970s, when we had joy, we had fun, and we had Season in the sun.

Bobby Jo and the Good Time Band (1972)
The Partridge Family (1972)

What a singular way to start an acting career: Hubley’s first credit was a pilot for a TV series inspired by the success of The Partridge Family. It was written by Bernard Slade, who also created…you guessed it, The Partridge Family. Hubley was top-billed as Bobby Jo, lead singer of a struggling band searching for their big break.

After it went nowhere, one assumes Slade tried to get his star better work, leading to her second professional credit, in an episode of…The Partridge Family. In “The Princess and the Partridge” she plays Princess Jennie, from some unnamed foreign land, visiting the U.S. and eager to meet the famous Keith Partridge. 

Hubley is utterly adorable as the down-to-earth princess, who sneaks away to a drive-in movie with Keith and causes an international incident. 

She Lives! (1973)
The exclamation point makes it sound like horror, but She Lives! belongs to a different genre – the “disease of the week” film, so named because of the prominence of that trope in made-for-TV movies. Desi Arnaz, Jr. and Season Hubley play two intense, misfit college students who find each other, drop out and try to make a go of it in a hostile world. All’s well until Pam (Hubley) finds a “funny lump” that leads to a grim prognosis. Does the title foreshadow a happy ending? You’ll have to watch to find out (the entire move is on YouTube). In addition to the work of Arnaz and Hubley, what makes the movie special is its recurrent use of Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle.” The movie aired just eight days before Croce’s death in a plane crash, and may have influenced the posthumous release of the song as a single – it became his second and final #1 hit. 

Kung Fu (1974)
In the two-part episode “Blood of the Dragon,” Hubley plays Margit Kingsley McLean, granddaughter of a man who knew Caine’s grandfather before he was murdered by the Order of the Avenging Dragon. It’s not a very big part – the dramatic heavy lifting in the guest cast goes to Patricia Neal and Eddie Albert. But Hubley is one of those actresses who suffers especially well – and she gets to do a lot of that here. 

Family (1976)
This is my favorite Season Hubley performance. Which is not surprising as I associate everything about Family with superlative achievement. She appears in four episodes, over two seasons, as Salina Magee, the troubled girlfriend of Willie Lawrence (Gary Frank). From the couple’s first meeting at a health food restaurant to their final parting, it’s one of the most effective story arcs in a series laden with memorable moments. 

Starsky and Hutch (1977)
Someday I’ll write a blog about one-episode love interests on classic TV shows. They meet one of the main characters, fall in love, plan their lives together, and then something happens to take them off the show – usually something fatal. Half that blog will be about Bonanza episodes. But here, in the episode “Starsky’s Lady,” it’s Season Hubley as doomed teacher Terry Roberts. It’s still an affecting episode even if you can guess where it’s headed in the first five minutes.  

SST: Death Flight (1977)
It’s the maiden flight of a supersonic transport plane flying from New York to Paris in two hours. And along for the ride are enough 1970s stars to fill a whole season of Love Boat episodes.

There’s Barbara Anderson and Regis Philbin as reporters covering the event. In the cockpit it’s Robert Reed and Doug McClure and aircraft designer Burgess Meredith, while Lorne Greene monitors conditions from the airport. Serving coffee, tea or milk as flight attendants – Billy Crystal and Tina Louise. Among the passengers – Martin Milner, Susan Strasberg, Bert Convy, Misty Rowe, and a young couple played by John de Lancie and Season Hubley. The man who would be Q plays that guy in every disaster movie who is first to panic and revert to Lord of the Flies mode, which drives Hubley back to her former love, who also happens to be on the plane – played by Peter Graves. 

Oh, this movie. It’s both terrible and wonderful at the same time. I love every second of it, with or without the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment it received in 1989.

Elvis (1979)
Hubley played Priscilla opposite her then real-life husband, Kurt Russell, as Elvis. I remember this TV movie got raves when it first aired but I don’t think it’s aged well, outside of the incredible covers of Elvis Presley’s songs by Ronnie McDowell. By now we’ve seen Kurt Russell in too many other things to suspend that knowledge and pretend he’s Elvis. Season Hubley, however, is nearly unrecognizable under a huge mop of “Ode to Billy Joe”-era Bobbie Gentry hair. Her subdued, sympathetic take on Priscilla suggests someone who spent an entire courtship and marriage struggling against a world she couldn’t understand. 

The Key to Rebecca (1985)
I’ll let Paul Mavis’s review cover this one: “What I always find interesting with Season Hubley is her tangible vulnerability. Whether its personal or professional, it unmistakably comes through the camera lens, lending her scenes a weight that isn’t warranted, frankly, in the script or direction.” Couldn’t agree more. You can read his full review here.

Christmas Eve (1986)
I know the Hallmark Channel puts out about 300 new Christmas movies every year, but this season skip one of the five or six with Lacey Chabert and instead go back to this touching holiday classic, which earned leading lady Loretta Young a Golden Globe. She plays a loving, generous and very wealthy woman who, learning her time left on earth may be short, decides to reunite her estranged family for Christmas. It’s not as depressing as it sounds – in fact it’s downright joyful. Season Hubley plays her granddaughter Melissa in two brief but memorable scenes. If you’re not sniffling at the movie’s emotional final moments, you have no Christmas spirit.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

You Didn’t Have to Be There – But I’m Glad I Was

While Comfort TV was wrapping up the top 100 TV-inspired songs ranking (just keep scrolling down if you missed it), three of the medium’s most beloved stars took their final bows: Tim Conway, Doris Day and Peggy Lipton. 

For those of us who remember watching their shows in their original runs, the sadness of their passing was followed by a realization that we too are starting to get up there a bit.

Another reason to be sad? I don’t think so. We all get a certain span of years to exist on this planet, and I feel not only content but also fortunate that part of my time was shared with them. 

I started Comfort TV to celebrate the classic television of the 1950s-1970s (and to some extent the ‘80s, but that’s going to be a topic for a future blog). When I look back at that era and how the medium has changed since...I can’t say it’s “better” or "worse," as that is too subjective; but I can say I still prefer it to what’s on TV now. It depicts a world I recognize and understand better than the one I’m presently living in. Its stories and characters, for the most part, respect the things that I respect, and don’t shy away from the kind of absolutes that have vanished in this era of persistent relevancy.

They were just nicer shows, with nicer people.

Doris Day had forged a bond with millions of loving fans long before The Doris Day Show debuted in 1968. It was a series she didn’t even want to do (read her autobiography for the details), but the stars of that era held themselves to higher standards of professionalism and honoring contracts. So she not only did the work, she never let anyone know that she’d rather be spending time with her animals in Carmel. 

The series struggled to find itself over five seasons. Doris first played a widow who lived on a ranch with her father and two sons. Then she took a job in San Francisco and the rural series became more city-based. By season four, the father and her two sons were gone (not dead, just written out and never acknowledged again).

Through it all, the flair for light comedy that seemed so natural in Doris Day kept viewers coming back. As did a troupe of supporting players led by Rose Marie, McLean Stevenson, Kaye Ballard and Bernie Kopell (are there any shows he wasn’t in?). 

I wish she sang more often on the show beyond the familiar theme, which can lift your mood faster than unexpected money in the mail. And I wish they’d have gone without a laugh track, which seems especially intrusive on this series. But even here, with a show that should have been better than it was, I can recall Monday evenings in my family’s living room, and the happy memories of enjoying a pleasant and comfortable show together.

The Mod Squad debuted the same year as The Doris Day Show. Unlike Doris, Peggy Lipton was an unknown actress when she was cast as Julie Barnes, but quickly became an icon of counterculture chic. 

My first memory of the series was wondering what the heck they were running away from in the opening credits.

I don’t own the series, but I bought the first two seasons twice; this is the only show where the DVD disc quality has been consistently dreadful. There’s a box set of all five seasons available now for just 32 bucks. Maybe it’s worth one more try.

I was surprised that most of the articles about her passing mentioned Twin Peaks more prominently, though I was glad to see her among that quirky cast as well, still looking radiant. One of my favorites of her TV performances was in the Wings episode “Miss Jenkins,” where she played the high school English teacher every boy had a crush on. It’s a shame she didn’t play more comedic roles. 

While Tim Conway was also a regular in more than one series, it’s his genius on The Carol Burnett Show that became a landmark in sketch comedy. The relentlessness of his improvisational attacks inspired some of the funniest moments I’ve ever watched on television.

I’ve shared the elephant story clip in this blog before, and you’re certainly familiar with the dentist sketch, and Mr. Tudball and his shuffling old man character. And who could forget the sketch where he plays a Nazi interrogating captured G.I. Lyle Waggoner with a Hitler hand puppet? It’s a moment that rivals Monty Python in sheer absurdity, and Waggoner, usually pretty unflappable, dissolves as quickly as Harvey Korman ever did.

I honestly don’t know if people in their 20s and 30s would find any of these shows and any of these performers as engaging as I did. If not, then we’ve lost something. There’s an appreciation for the past that seems lacking now, that wasn’t there with previous generations. I wasn’t around for the heydays of Sinatra or Elvis, but I still enjoy their music and understand what made them special. Does that same perception exist now for Johnny Carson or Rod Serling or Mary Tyler Moore?

That said, I acknowledge that I will never feel the same connection to Elvis as teenagers did in the 1950s. Some of this is indeed generational and there’s no way to embrace a moment from the past with the same appreciation from 20 years after it happened.

But that’s the connection I have with the classic TV era. I can remember watching the shows featuring Doris Day, Peggy Lipton and Tim Conway when they were brand new. We had no way to save them at the time, so for years they existed only in our memories. Now we can watch them any time we wish on DVD or YouTube, and that’s great. But it’s not the same as taking life's journey alongside them. I’m glad I was around to do that. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The 100 Most Memorable Songs Introduced by Classic TV, Pt. 5

And we’ve reached the top 20 at last. Hope you’ve enjoyed taking this journey with me, even if your most memorable TV songs are different than mine.

“Different Worlds”

The jubilant “Different Worlds” charted in the top 20, and you can still hear it performed live if you happen to catch the amazing Maureen McGovern in concert. Since Angie has been out of circulation for so long, there’s still a freshness to the tune that is unachievable by themes from more popular shows that run every day on Antenna or Me-TV. 

“Secret Agent Man”
Secret Agent

This Johnny Rivers hit is better known than the show it introduced. In fact, there are probably people who don’t even know it came from a series. 

“Every Beat of My Heart”
Josie and the Pussycats

If you have any non TV-obsessed fans, here’s a record you can play and then ask them if they can name the band. Usually you’ll hear guesses of Motown groups and other 1960s pop trios, but no one would expect such a smooth and sophisticated track to come from Josie and the Pussycats. Of all the songs in my top 20 that were not chart hits, this is the one that most deserved a better fate. 

Shadows of the Night”
Dark Shadows

One of Bob Cobert’s greatest gifts as a composer is the ability to write music that sounds as if it were composed in a bygone century. That’s an especially valuable talent when you’re scoring a series with stories set in the 19th and 18th centuries. “Shadow of the Night,” also known as “Quentin’s Theme,” was recorded by numerous artists including Andy Williams. 

“It’s a Sunshine Day”
The Brady Bunch

If there’s one song that exemplifies Comfort TV for me, it is this one. I’m sure to those that didn’t grow up with it, this innocuous tune delivered with less-than-polished vocals hardly seems special. But if you grew up with The Brady Bunch in syndication, in the era before DVDs and VCRs, there was always some extra excitement every time this episode came around. 

“Welcome Back”
Welcome Back, Kotter

Gabe Kaplan’s sitcom already had a theme selected when former Lovin’ Spoonful lead singer John Sebastian submitted his effort. Producers quickly made a switch and this song, Sebastian’s only solo hit, topped the Billboard chart in May of 1976. 

“Long Lonesome Highway”
Then Came Bronson

This 1969 series lasted just one season and isn’t well remembered now. But the song that played over the closing credits, performed by series star Michael Parks, cracked the Billboard top 20. “Goin’ down that long, lonesome highway, goin’ to live my life my way.” 

“Daydream Believer”
The Monkees

This #1 hit is another obvious pick, and features Davy Jones’ best vocal on a Monkees track (though if you prefer “She Hangs Out” I won’t argue the point). 

“It’s You I Like”
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

Music can entertain, motivate and inspire, but I believe it can also help to heal wounded hearts and give people the courage to carry on in the face of adversity. We will never know how many children, and adults as well, found comfort and strength in this tender, uplifting song written and performed by Fred Rogers. 

“Holly Jolly Christmas”
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Of all the Christmas songs to make this top 100 list, this is the only one that became a holiday standard. Fifty years after Burl Ives sang it as a stop-motion snowman, his version has re-entered the hot 100 chart several times over the decades, most recently last year. 


As with Then Came Bronson, here’s a show that didn’t last long and to my knowledge hasn’t played anywhere in decades. But it featured a theme song performed in 1964 by The Beach Boys, at the height of their popularity and creativity. It’s 60 seconds of bliss that leaves one longing for a full-length version. As long as the band is still around, I haven’t given up hope. 

“Sugar Sugar”
The Archies

Producer Don Kirshner knew this was a sure-fire hit and decided it would be a single for The Monkees. But that decision was made just as the group had tired of being told what to do and demanded more control over their musical output. So Kirshner took the song to a cartoon group that couldn’t refuse a direct order – and it was the top selling record in the year it was released. 

“Makin’ It”
Makin’ It

Those still harboring an aversion to disco may not like this high ranking, but genre prejudice aside it’s a great song. As I wrote in an earlier piece on TV theme songs that were better than the shows they introduced, “Makin’ It” was a Saturday Night Fever homage rip-off that debuted in February of 1979, and was canceled one month later. But the theme, performed by series star David Naughton, deservedly reached #5 on the Billboard chart. 

“Johnny Angel”
The Donna Reed Show

Shelley Fabares will be the first to tell you she’s not really a singer. But with the right song, the right arrangement, and backing vocals by the likes of Darlene Love, “Johnny Angel” became her first and only #1 hit. She recorded several albums after the song’s unexpected success, but never got close to a hit again. 

“Summer Days”
The Partridge Family

Why “Summer Days” was never released as a single remains a classic TV music mystery. It’s not just my favorite Partridge Family song – it’s one of my favorite records from any group and any musical era. From the explosive opening riff to David Cassidy’s exuberant vocal to a buoyant chorus that bounds and rolls out of your speakers, “Summer Days” delivers three minutes of unbridled joy. The 1970s may not have been as carefree as the song suggests, but while it’s playing you can close your eyes and pretend they were really that wonderful. 


“I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”
Coca-Cola Commercial

As with “Country Sunshine” from earlier on the list, this is a song that originated in 1971 as a Coca-Cola jingle, in one of the most famous commercials ever broadcast. The success of that much-beloved ad inspired full-length recordings by The New Seekers and The Hillside Singers. One hundred years from now, when television’s best commercials are still being ranked, this commercial featuring teenagers from around the world gathered in song will still be fondly remembered. 


“Hello Mary Lou”
The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet

Originally released as the B-side to “Travelin’ Man,” this song first written and recorded by Gene Pitney became a hit in its own right. It’s also the only Ricky Nelson song to be covered by Led Zeppelin. 


“I’m a Believer”
The Monkees

This is not only one of the band’s most popular and successful songs (seven weeks at #1), I think it belongs in the select company of the most perfect pop records ever made, alongside The Ronnettes’ “Be My Baby.” 


“Love is All Around”
The Mary Tyler Moore Show

The season one version of The Mary Tyler Moore Show theme by Sonny Curtis is more than just a catchy tune or a means to introduce characters; it told the story of a generation of women breaking free from traditional stereotypes (“How will you make it on your own?”), and encapsulated a transitional moment in the culture. In subsequent seasons the lyrics changed to a celebration of the charms of Mary Richards, thus rendering the theme less substantive but still memorable.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The 100 Most Memorable Songs Introduced by Classic TV, Pt. 4

We’re reached the top 40 – so let’s channel our inner Casey Kasem and count them down once more. 

“Inside, Outside, Upside Down”
Josie and the Pussycats

This is bubblegum pop at its sweetest and most irresistible. If you remember ordering this 45 record from the back of a Kellogg’s cereal box, your childhood was awesome. 

Here Come the Brides

Bobby Sherman’s recording career didn’t take off until after he was cast in Here Come the Brides. But it wasn’t the show’s theme song that did it. In fact, “Seattle” was never released as a single. However, the song was a top-40 hit for Perry Como. I like Perry Como, but Sherman’s version is better. 

“Mah-na Mah-na”
Sesame Street

Technically, this song was not introduced by Sesame Street. It was first heard in a forgotten Italian film, and was also used as background comedy sketch music on The Red Skelton Show and The Benny Hill Show. However, it has become so associated with the Muppets that it belongs on this list. 

“Making Our Dreams Come True”
Laverne & Shirley

Some theme songs, like some TV shows, have aged better than others. This theme, I think, is one that has never lost its sunny appeal. The recording by Cyndi Grecco topped out at #25, and she was never heard from again. But she’ll be celebrated as long as people still watch the show.

“Conjunction Junction”
Schoolhouse Rock

With its Jack Sheldon vocal and jazzy arrangement, this may be the most popular of the Schoolhouse Rock shorts. 

The Love Boat

Sure, there’s a cheesy, Vegas lounge quality to this Jack Jones song, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It fits the escapist appeal of the series, and its description of love as “an open smile on a friendly shore” is a better lyric than most TV themes manage. 

“I Love Lucy”
I Love Lucy

It’s best remembered as an instrumental but there was a lyric, first heard when the song was performed by Desi Arnaz in the episode “Lucy’s Last Birthday.” 

“The Littlest Lamb”
The Flintstones

This is the only lullaby to make the list. As Pebbles drifts away to its calming melody and Ann-Margret’s soothing voice, the song plays over a simple but affecting dream sequence in the classic Hanna-Barbera style. The animation is evocative of nursery rhymes, and will take many of us back to our earliest television watching memories. 

“Good Ol’ Boys”
The Dukes of Hazzard

Series creator Gy Waldron once told me that the best Dukes of Hazzard episodes were those that could be adapted into a great country song. So it’s fitting that the series itself was introduced with a great country song, performed by one of the genre’s iconic artists. 

“High Fidelity”

Many talented young vocalists graced the halls of the High School for the Performing Arts (no, not you, Lori Singer), but for me the voice of Fame has always been Valerie Landsburg (Doris). This is my favorite of her many series performances. 

“Best Friend”
The Courtship of Eddie’s Father

Harry Nilsson had 8 top 40 hits. “Best Friend,” his joyful theme to The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, was not one of them. It should have been. The song was never released as a single, perhaps because it was adapted from an earlier Nilsson composition called “Girlfriend.”


As with I Love Lucy here’s a classic theme with a rarely heard lyric (and quite a good one, too). You can hear it in records cut by Steve Lawrence and Peggy Lee. 

“True Love Is On Its Way”
The Krofft Supershow

Our third and final Kaptain Kool and the Kongs entry features Debra Clinger’s Superchick on lead vocal. Clinger should have gone on to much better things. Instead, she starred in the quickly canceled series American Girls and hasn’t been on TV since a 1982 episode of Hart to Hart

“The Sweet Sweet Sway”
The Electric Company

The show’s house band, The Short Circus, delivered several fun songs that helped kids learn about the English language, but this one was always a cut above the rest and it was clear the show knew it as well. It received a special introduction by Morgan Freeman’s DJ Mel Mounds, and was performed with the rest of the show’s cast in attendance. 

“The Ballad of Davy Crockett”

The series that arguably inspired the biggest merchandising craze of the 1950s also inspired one of the decade’s most famous theme songs. Several versions were recorded and three of them made the top 40, including one by series star Fess Parker. But it was the Bill Hayes rendition that went all the way to number one. 

“Keep Christmas With You”
Sesame Street

Anyone who watched Sesame Street into adulthood would not be surprised that it introduced a memorable Christmas song. “Keep Christmas With You (All Through the Year)” was featured on several of the series’ holiday shows, beginning in 1975 and continuing through 2006’s Elmo Saves Christmas. Stick with the early versions. 

“The Mickey Mouse Club March”
Mickey Mouse Club

Composed by genial head Mouseketeer Jimmie Dodd, this is one of the great singalong tunes of TV’s golden age. Bonus points for the use of two equally memorable versions – the robust march that opened each episode, and the slower, gentler variant that signaled the end of our visit with the Mouseketeers (“Now it’s time to say goodbye…to all our company”)

“I Think I Love You”
The Partridge Family

I know it’s debatable whether there were 21 better TV-inspired songs than this chart-topping classic, but if it’s any consolation we haven’t seen the last of the Partridges on this list. 

“Travelin’ Man”
The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet

My second-favorite Ricky Nelson song. It was introduced on the series in 1961, in a sequence that may be among the first music videos ever produced. 

“Country Sunshine”

Yes, commercials do count on our top 100, especially when the music is as good as this. The song, performed by Dottie West, debuted in a commercial for Coca-Cola, and an extended version was later recorded by West (with the Coke reference removed). 

Next Week: We count down all the way to #1. Any guesses?