Monday, January 19, 2015

Creating a Comfort TV Viewing Night

Winter before Christmas is delightful. Picturesque snowfalls and brisk temperatures enhance the holidays and traditions of the season. But come January most of us have had enough. Unfortunately, winter never gets that memo, and lingers like an unwanted houseguest for months.

Television becomes a more desirable (or at least, more attainable) entertainment option on cold winter nights. Maybe that’s why I’ve always felt that classic TV viewing, which is hardly a seasonal pastime, somehow feels more satisfying when it’s cold outside.

Of course, no advance preparation is necessary for spending a few hours with the great programs of the past – just pop in a DVD or find a few vintage shows on your streaming service of choice, or on nostalgia networks like MeTV and Cozi, and you’re good to go. But with a little extra effort you can turn this activity into a memorable evening perfect for sharing with family and friends, or even when you’re by yourself. 

As someone who spends more time in TV land than the average citizen, I’ve developed a few viewing habits that always accentuate the occasion, which I now humbly share for your consideration.

Let’s start with room preparation. Some prefer to watch TV in the dark, as a way to create a more theatrical experience and to help center everyone’s focus on the program. There is something to be said for this, but watching television is not the same as watching movies, and most of us are more accustomed to normal room lighting. My preference is to split the difference – low light, perhaps from one lamp not too close to the screen, so the room is somewhat darkened but still bright enough that you won’t bang your shin on a coffee table en route to the bathroom.

I like to keep the temperature on the cool side, as this creates an appropriate environment for the incorporation of pillows, quilts and blankets, the ultimate comfort providers for comfort TV viewing. Two options here: drape them over the couch, or toss them into a haphazard pile on the floor in front of the screen. If you grew up with the shows you are watching, that’s the vantage point from where you probably saw them for the first time. 

Pajamas are the obvious choice of attire, even if your evening is a communal occasion. Tell those you invite to come prepared. There’s nothing wrong with a slumber party even at your age.

Food and drink are also necessary, and there are no restrictions on your menu options save one ­– nothing that is served should in any way be considered healthy. Pizza delivery is never a bad idea, served with anything from wine to soft drinks. If snacks are more appropriate there’s chips, popcorn (try a caramel/cheddar mix) or sugar-coated cereal served in bowls on (what else?) TV trays. If you dwell in one of those regions where January isn’t fooling around when it comes to frozen conditions, another option is hot cocoa paired with a bakery item like spice cake. 

And now, with everything else in place, all that is left to determine is what to watch.

Even when a small gathering of classic TV fans get together, it may not be easy to reach a consensus. One solution would be to have everyone bring a DVD with a favorite episode of a favorite show. Or choose a theme –perhaps detective shows or family sitcoms, or television from the 1950s (or 60s, 70s. etc.).

Another suggestion is to recreate a network program lineup from decades past, something I’ve often enjoyed doing (as covered in a previous blog). Or build an evening around guest-starring roles from one actor – for instance, check out John Wayne’s appearances on I Love Lucy, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Dean Martin Show and Maude

Do you have any rituals or comfort TV viewing preferences? Please share them – we could all use some fresh ideas for getting through what’s left of these long, dark winter nights.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Revisiting Bosom Buddies

Was anyone else surprised by the multiple mentions of Bosom Buddies at the recent Kennedy Center Honors tribute to Tom Hanks?

I expected a clip of the series to be played during the video retrospective of his life and career, but the situation comedy practically became a running joke throughout the segment, inspiring cross-dressing quips from Martin Short and host Stephen Colbert.

The references were plainly intended as affectionate mocking, and a way to illustrate how far Tom Hanks has come from such humble and questionable beginnings.

There’s only one problem with that assessment – Bosom Buddies was nothing to be ashamed of. Hanks doesn’t think so either – when a cast reunion was arranged at the TV Land Awards in 2010, the A-list movie star was there alongside Peter Scolari, Donna Dixon, Holland Taylor and Telma Hopkins. I’m sure his TV Land Award is now proudly displayed between his two Oscars. 

The series is remembered as a failure because it was – just 37 episodes over two low-rated seasons, and a men-in-drag gimmick that was dated and desperate even in 1981. But as the old jazz standard reminds us, it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.

Actually, jazz is an apt allusion of why Bosom Buddies made its high-concept-to the-hilt premise work. With jazz it’s not the music on the page that creates the magic, but the inspired improvisations that take place within its framework. With Bosom Buddies it wasn’t the scripts or the ensemble that excelled as much as the lively riffing of Hanks and Scolari.

I still remember how fresh and surprising those moments seemed when the series first aired, as such instances of spontaneity were not typical of Miller-Milkis-Boyett shows.

Thomas Miller, Edward Milkis and Robert Boyett, working together and in various combinations from the 1970s through the 1990s, were responsible for the creation and/or production of several successful series (Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Full House, Perfect Strangers) and a few famous misses (Blansky’s Beauties, Joanie Loves Chachi, Goodtime Girls).

Television fans of that era came to recognize a house style for the team’s various shows – working class heroes, lovable eccentrics, and material that was rarely played with subtlety under a too-exuberant laugh track. So when a more obscure pop culture reference slipped into one of the conversations between Kip (Hanks) and Henry (Scolari), or their female counterparts Buffy and Hildy, Bosom Buddies became a different type of show – more clever and mischievous, and definitely funnier. Most of these highlights happened when the duo were not in drag – maybe it’s harder to ad-lib in heels. 

Such inspired moments seemed improvised, though that was unlikely in an assembly line product. But during interviews conducted around the aforementioned TV Land Awards, the cast confirmed what I had long suspected – during the tedious hours of camera blocking, the actors would indeed improvise material which often found its place into the finished episodes.

Perhaps, after letting Robin Williams run wild on Mork & Mindy, the network and the producers had become more open to letting stars tweak their scripts. Or maybe the ratings on Bosom Buddies were so bleak they didn’t bother paying attention. Either way, there was something a little subversive going on there, and I imagine it’s one of the reasons why the series still has its supporters.

Of course, it still doesn’t get any respect – a "Complete Series" DVD is available, but CBS-Paramount didn’t think it was worth writing a big check to retain the original Billy Joel theme song (“My Life”). Perhaps being referenced 20 years later at the Kennedy Center with the president and first lady in attendance is recognition enough. Nobody is still making Blansky’s Beauties jokes.  

Monday, December 29, 2014

It’s Just Another New Year’s Eve

Christmas suggests myriad topics for a classic TV post: New Year’s Eve, not so much.

I could offer a tribute to Guy Lombardo and his orchestra, as their New Year’s Eve concerts were an American tradition from the 1920s on radio through the 1970s on television – and the cultural shift that occurred when Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve supplanted them during that decade. 

But I wasn’t a fan of either show. In fact, I am one of those that never found much to celebrate in the flipping of a calendar. Barry Manilow is too, apparently; the title of this piece is taken from a song of his that sums up my sentiments.  

There are New Year’s-themed shows in the Comfort TV canon, but not that many. It’s not surprising – with Christmas episodes a staple of that era, a second consecutive holiday show probably seemed like too much of a good thing, as well as another show that wouldn’t play as well in syndication.

I also don’t find any nostalgic appeal in watching old New Year’s themed shows, as one celebration was much like any other in the 20th century – champagne, funny hats, “Auld Lang Syne” and a kiss at midnight. All that changes is the year on the “Happy New Year” banner. Seeing “Happy 1960" or "Happy 1972” on screen is a reminder only of how much time has passed, and how old you’re starting to get – especially if you watched that episode when it first aired. 

So I’ve started my own tradition. On January 1, as I begin my journey through 2015, I will watch the first episodes of some favorite series, especially those in which the characters also begin a new chapter in their lives.

While the first show is always where viewers are introduced to new TV friends, many shows launch with everyone already living lives that will remain consistent for the duration of the show: I Love Lucy, The Donna Reed Show, The Wild, Wild West, Charlie’s Angels. In fact, more series follow this template than any other – this is who we are, this is what we do, come back and see us again if you like.

But I think it’s more interesting when the characters are setting out on a different path at the same time viewers first meet them – that way we all set sail on a new voyage of discovery together.

For instance, by getting a glimpse of Jed Clampett’s life before that fateful day he struck oil, viewers could better appreciate the culture shock that accompanied his move to Beverly Hills. By learning of the circumstances that led to Bill Davis taking in Buffy and Jody and Cissy, we understand the challenges and separation anxieties evoked throughout their first days as a new family. 

There are plenty more to choose from – and I am already looking forward to choosing episodes for my mini-marathon on New Year’s Eve, while those in a more celebratory mood stand outside in freezing temperatures waiting for balls to drop or fireworks to start.

Perhaps I will begin 2015 with Victoria Winters as she takes the train into Collinsport, or by watching Mike and Carol Brady get married. I could spend part of the day with Mary Richards as she starts a new job and moves into a new apartment, wondering if she can make it on her own, or watch as tennis pro Jaime Summers is rebuilt with bionic technology.

Maybe I’ll go back to school, and watch Coach Reeves meet his Carver High basketball team, or Gabe Kotter meet the Sweathogs. If it’s cold outside I can head for the tropical beach where Major Anthony Nelson finds a strange bottle in the sand. I can watch Jimmy wash ashore on Living Island – or Laura Palmer wash ashore on the coast of Twin Peaks (though that one may not be as festive).

New beginnings. They almost make the endings worthwhile. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

What is Your Classic TV Constant?

Discuss favorite Lost episodes with fans and it won’t be long until someone mentions “The Constant.” 

For those who didn’t follow this fascinating and sometimes frustrating series, the episode was about a man whose reality had become fractured in divergent timelines, and who was able to survive the ordeal by focusing on a “constant,” defined here as something or someone of value that is always present in his life.

It’s a concept I hadn’t pondered before watching Lost, but one that I’ve often thought about since. Who wouldn’t want a constant to anchor us amidst turmoil, something we know with certainty will be in our lives for as long as we desire it?

It’s the type of security some of us get from faith, which may adapt with the times but still adheres to bedrock principles and eternal promises.

But on a much less profound level, I believe it’s one of the reasons why what I call Comfort TV is something so many of us treasure. 

Life is inevitably about change.

We live with our parents when we’re young, and then we’re out on our own, before creating new families, which stay together until another generation leaves the nest. We move from one home to another, and change jobs and companies throughout our careers. Pets come into our lives for a time, but unless you are partial to parrots or tortoises they will leave long before you do.

If you’re lucky you’ll hold on to a few childhood friends into your adult years. The rest you’ll see at school reunions, and acknowledge their birthdays on Facebook.

The neighborhood restaurant you grew up with is replaced by an Outback Steakhouse. The park where you played baseball is now condos. The daily newspaper is on your computer instead of your doorstep.

When you really stop to think about it, how many things come into your life and are always there – or are at least always accessible when you wish to see them again?  Favorite books, favorite songs, movies and TV shows are indeed a constant for so many of us, and that’s why they bring us such joy.

I was five years old the first time I saw The Dick Van Dyke Show. I was in the living room of a duplex in Skokie, Illinois, eating dinner on a TV tray and watching the series in syndication on Chicago’s WGN-TV, channel 9. It made me laugh, and it made my mom laugh. We watched every weeknight, until my father came home from work. 

At the time I had no idea the episodes I was enjoying so much had originally aired several years earlier. But gradually as the five seasons continued to play in succession, I became aware of the concept of the rerun, and began to look forward to watching my favorite shows again.

After a few years of constant exposure I lost touch with the Petries for a while, only to rediscover them in the 1980s when my home was wired for cable and I discovered the delights of Nick at Nite. Once again, The Dick Van Dyke Show was a nightly tradition, and it had lost none of its appeal.

When the DVDs came out I bought them all. Now I could watch the series on my schedule, skip over the (very) few sub-par episodes and enjoy classics like “The Curious Thing About Women” and “October Eve” as often as I wished. 

When the series was released on Blu-Ray, I had a welcome pretext to watch every show again in order, now with a stunning clarity that I could never have imagined more than 40 years earlier. For the first time I could clearly distinguish the pile of the carpet in the Petrie living room, beads of sweat forming on Dick Van Dyke’s forehead in several of the office scenes, and the fine detail in the threading on Mary Tyler Moore’s costumes.

There are other shows that have been with me nearly as long as The Dick Van Dyke Show – I retain a very hazy memory of watching a first-run Brady Bunch episode at the age of four – but if I had to name an origin point for my classic television passion, it would have to be 148 Bonnie Meadow Road in New Rochelle, New York. And it feels good to know that 10, 20, 30 years from now it will be there. And Buddy’s putdowns of Mel Cooley will still make me laugh, even though I’ve heard them a thousand times before. 

Do you have a classic TV constant?


Monday, December 1, 2014

My Christmas TV List

The end of Thanksgiving heralds the beginning of my Christmas television season.

The lineup and viewing order vary from year to year. Between my DVD library and programs accessed by other means, I probably have anywhere from 60 to 75 holiday episodes to choose from. Some are annual viewing; others are pulled out occasionally, and many are skipped altogether. The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis is a wonderful series I’m glad to own, but in four seasons they didn’t manage one memorable Christmas show.

This list contains the episodes that are essential to my Christmas celebration. Please share your favorites in the comments if you’re so inclined.

And if you’d like to know more about Christmas TV the universally-recognized authority is Joanna Wilson, who has a blog devoted to this particular topic, and whose books on Christmas television I cannot recommend highly enough.

The Avengers (“Too Many Christmas Trees”)
Steed has Santa-themed nightmares, which come to life at a Charles Dickens-inspired Christmas party. The dialogue sparkles as it usually does with this show (Steed on Emma’s friendship with a rare book dealer – “Is he still after your first edition?”), and there’s a clever reference to Steed’s previous partner, Cathy Gale.

The Lucy Show (“Together for Christmas”)
Lucy and Viv look forward to their first Christmas together, until they discover that their respective holiday traditions couldn’t be further apart. Anyone with in-laws can relate.

Dragnet (“The Christmas Story”)
Friday and Gannon try to track down a missing statue of the baby Jesus, stolen from a church’s Nativity scene. Turns out the culprit is a little boy who prayed for a red wagon for Christmas, and promised Jesus the first ride. “Paquita’s family, they’re poor,” explains the priest in the last scene. Friday looks around the church and responds, “Are they, Father?” Good luck finding that kind of message on TV anymore.

The Monkees (“The Christmas Show”)
The Monkees baby-sit a spoiled rich kid (played by The Munsters’ Butch Patrick) over the holidays. The episode is just fair, but it closes with the band performing a superb a cappella version of “Riu Chiu,” a Spanish carol that dates back to the 1500s. 

The Donna Reed Show (“A Very Merry Christmas”)
Donna worries that Christmas is not what it used to be (in 1958!) but finds the true spirit of the season in a hospital janitor who arranges a Christmas party in the children’s ward. Silent screen legend Buster Keaton plays the janitor. A beautiful and heartwarming episode typical of both the series and its era. 

The Dick Van Dyke Show (“The Alan Brady Show Presents”)
All singing, all dancing, all wonderful – except for Richie’s off-key warbling of “The Little Drummer Boy.” What did we do before fast-forward buttons on remotes?

Petticoat Junction (“Cannonball Christmas”)
Railroad executive Homer Bedloe (Charles Lane, TV’s go-to curmudgeon) tries to shut down the Cannonball but is outsmarted by Kate Bradley and her daughters. The show ends with the train, decorated for the holidays, riding through Hooterville to the strains of holiday music. 

The Patty Duke Show (“The Christmas Present”)
Cathy is convinced that her father, a foreign correspondent, will be home to spend Christmas with her, even though newspapers report he’s been jailed after a revolution on the other side of the world. Will he make it in time? Of course he will – what classic TV show would dare to run a depressing Christmas episode? Yeah, I’m looking at you, Family Affair.

The Brady Bunch (“The Voice of Christmas”)
No surprise to see this one on the essential list: Cindy asks Santa to restore her mother’s laryngitis-stricken voice in time for her church solo. Remember when TV characters actually went to church?

That Girl (“’Twas the Night Before Christmas, You’re Under Arrest”)
After one of those misunderstandings that only happen on sitcoms, Ann and Donald spend Christmas Eve in jail.

Wings (‘The Customer’s Usually Right”)
There were six Wings holiday episodes and I usually watch all of them.
My favorite is this one from season four, in which Joe’s refusal to pay a 50-cent rewind fee on a rented videocassette gets a sweet little old lady fired on Christmas Eve. His attempts to make amends lead to unexpectedly hilarious complications.

Father Knows Best (“The Christmas Story”)
Determined to celebrate the holiday right, Jim drags his family up to the mountains so they can cut down their own Christmas tree.  His plan goes awry when the car gets stuck in a snowdrift, and they are forced to seek shelter in an abandoned fishing lodge. The ending, when Kathy thinks she sees Santa Claus out her window, is magical. 

The Bob Newhart Show (“Bob Has to Have His Tonsils Out, So He Spends Christmas Eve in the Hospital”)
The title says it all. Bob is subjected to the indignities of peekaboo hospital gowns, Howard’s hospital horror stories, and an ancient nurse played by the veteran character actress Merie Earle, who gets a laugh with every line she utters. But then you can’t go wrong with any of the Newhart holiday shows.

The Partridge Family (“Don’t Bring Your Guns to Town, Santa”)
This was a favorite episode among most of the cast, and while I like it I don’t love it. I wish there would have been a full performance of “Winter Wonderland,” or better yet “A Christmas Card to You.” But the costumes are beautiful, and with every passing year I am moved more by the poignancy of Dean Jagger’s lonely prospector. 

The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet (“The Girl in the Emporium”)
Ricky and his friend Wally get jobs at a department store to make some extra holiday money – and to hit on a cute sales clerk. I think I watch this one every year just for Ricky Nelson’s Kingfish (from Amos & Andy) imitation near the end. It never fails to make me laugh.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (“Christmas and the Hard Luck Kid”)
If you’re a classic TV fan you are already picturing Mary’s desk, decorated for the holidays (with Nativity scene in the desk drawer). This is another personal favorite – one year I am definitely going to gift-wrap my front door like she does in this episode. 

Eight is Enough (“Yes, Nicholas, There is a Santa Claus”)
Will Geer plays a down and out man who convinces Nicholas he is Santa Claus, and then steals all the Bradford Christmas presents. Really, Nicholas? Even Nancy wouldn't have fallen for that. Still, it’s a fun two-part show with an unexpectedly powerful ending.

The Flintstones (“Christmas Flintstone”)
I love the look of this episode. The deep blues, reds and whites in the color palette are a striking change from the earth tones that permeate most Flintstones shows. The songs are silly but still memorable, and the Pebbles dolls are an amusing example of not-too-subtle product placement.

Bewitched (“A Vision of Sugar Plums”)
This is my favorite Christmas episode of any series. Every moment of it is perfect.

Glee (“A Very Glee Christmas”)
This is the only contemporary show on my list, but it feels retro because of the wonderful covers of “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year” from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and two songs from The Grinch that Stole Christmas


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Classic TV Legacy of Casey Kasem

Most Saturday mornings you’ll find me driving around Las Vegas listening to a 1970s edition of American Top 40 with Casey Kasem on Sirius XM. I live in the past as much with music as I do with television.

Hearing Casey count down tracks from Fleetwood Mac, Andy Gibb and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils is a happy reminder of tuning into the same broadcasts when they originally aired, as well as a way to remember Kasem in his element, before recent months have turned him into a post-mortem punch line on par with baseball great Ted Williams. 

Kasem was certainly best known as a radio personality, but he also had a successful and somewhat bizarre acting career that also deserves commemoration. He was, to borrow a phrase from Nick at Nite back when that network was worth watching, part of our television heritage.

Here is just a sampling of the shows where he appeared and the roles he played over an eclectic career.

Norville “Shaggy” Rogers
Outside of daytime drama you rarely find an actor portraying the same character for 40 years. Casey Kasem created the voice of Shaggy for Scooby Doo, Where are You when it debuted in 1969, and kept coming back for revivals and adaptations and direct-to-video DVDs until 2009. That’s a lot of “Zoinks!” From 2010 to 2013, he voiced Shaggy’s father, Colton, in Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated.  

Kasem’s voice was often described as unmistakable. But to me Shaggy’s high-pitched quaver sounds almost nothing like the soothing, resonant voice you heard on the radio, or in voiceover the commercials he narrated for Heinz ketchup or Dairy Queen or Oscar Meyer. The difference was so distinct that Kasem often voiced secondary characters in Scooby Doo shows (like the various cops who drag the phony monster to jail) and if you didn’t know you’d never suspect it was the same performer.

Dick Grayson/Robin
This was Kasem’s second most famous animated character, one that predates his time in the Mystery Machine. He played an earnest Boy Wonder in 1968’s The Batman/Superman Hour, and reprised the role in Hanna Barbera’s long-running Super Friends shows. Super Friends and Scooby Doo were Saturday morning staples throughout the 1970s – no wonder my generation grew up with Kasem’s voice in our heads. 

Adolf Hitler
In 1974, when Don Rickles was the guest of honor on one of Dean Martin’s legendary roasts, Casey Kasem was introduced as “the man who writes every word that comes out of Don’s mouth.” Out he strolled as Hitler (not in Nazi garb, but in a purple smoking jacket), to claim that Rickles is “the only man who has bombed more places than I have.” It’s a bizarre moment but Casey does his best to commit to the character.

Peter Cottontail
Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971) was the first of three Rankin-Bass Easter specials, none of which are as fondly recalled as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Still, here’s a chance to hear Casey sing, and you try to find another actor who played both Hitler and Peter Cottontail. 

Charlie’s Angels
The season 3 episode “Winning is for Losers” finds the Angels on bodyguard duty, after a professional golfer receives death threats. Jamie Lee Curtis plays the golfer, the same year she starred in Halloween. And Casey Kasem appears as sportscaster Tom Rogers, who has a sinister secret but may or may not be the killer. Despite the appearances of Curtis and Kasem, the episode is most memorable for a scene in which petite little Kris Munroe (Cheryl Ladd) wrestles an alligator.

The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries
In the two-part thriller “Mystery of the Hollywood Phantom,” Kasem plays struggling actor Paul Hamilton who, as in Charlie’s Angels, may or may not be a murderer. In his first scene he impersonates Peter Falk as Lt. Columbo, and pulls it off surprisingly well. 

Saved By The Bell
Casey played himself in more than 50 television appearances, including two episodes of this awful but strangely beloved series. In “Dancing to the Max,” he appears as the host of a dance contest, which is somehow won by Screech. Apparently no one saw Elizabeth Berkeley on Dancing With the Stars. Or Showgirls.

These selections are just a small sampling of Kasem’s TV work – if you’re a viewer of the various retro TV channels you’ll also spot him in episodes of Fantasy Island, Hawaii Five-O, Ironside, Quincy and My Two Dads. And if you need a fix between reruns please join me Saturday mornings on the Sirius 70s on 7 channel. I’ll bet it’s been years since you’ve heard “Convoy” or “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” on the radio.

As you do, say a little prayer if you’re so inclined that Casey Kasem’s body will soon be at rest, as his soul ascends to the stars he always encouraged us to reach. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

The (Real) Home of Comfort TV

There is a fantasy shared by many of us who love Comfort TV, and that is the prospect of visiting the fictional worlds created in classic shows. What would it be like to attend one of those martini-drenched cocktail parties hosted by Sam and Darren Stephens? Or listen to the Partridge Family rehearse in their garage? Or to see snow falling over Major Nelson’s house in July, and realize that Jeannie is at it again? 

Impossible, of course. But there is a place that would bring one closer to realizing this dream than any other in our mundane real world. It’s in Burbank, California, on a section of the Warner Bros. Ranch known as Blondie Street. If classic TV has a home, this is it.

At first glance it looks like any other gently-curving street you would find in suburban cities throughout the United States – single family homes with attached garages and neatly-manicured lawns out front, some with a white picket fence surrounding the property.

But if you know your classic TV shows, it won’t be long before every house on the block begins to look familiar. Start with the Blondie home, built for use in a series of 1940s films based on the long-running comic strip. For TV fans, however, it is famous as the home of the Andersons in Father Knows Best, as well as the home of Major Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie

This is also where you’ll find the homes used on Hazel and Gidget, and the Oliver house that was home to both the Stones on The Donna Reed Show and the Mitchells on Dennis the Menace. Next door to the Blondie home is the Partridge Family home  – note the driveway on the right where the iconic bus was often parked. 

At the end of the street is the Higgins house, most famously used as the Stephens residence on Bewitched

There is a park on the other side of the street, which has appeared in all of the above shows and hundreds more. Its most famous feature is a circular, white stone fountain that should also be familiar to every TV fan. It was prominently featured in the opening credits of Friends
, but sharp-eyed viewers can spot it in dozens of other shows, from The Waltons to The Monkees.

If you want to know the full history of the Warner Bros. Ranch, there is an excellent website that details every aspect of the property, from its initial construction to the movies and television shows filmed there. Mischa Hof, with whom I’ve exchanged a number of emails over the past 10 years, created the site. It’s a labor of love for him, and I can’t imagine how much time and money he’s devoted to research and interviews that celebrate its pop culture heritage.

A few months ago I received an email from a woman named Janet who works on the Blondie Street part of the property. She asked if I would be willing to write a blog on the site and on Mischa’s work.

I immediately accepted, having wanted to visit the place for years. I’ve walked the perimeter of the property during more than one trip to Los Angeles (there’s a pretty good pizza place across the street), and peeked through the chain-link fence where you can glimpse some of the houses. 

Unfortunately, just two weeks after Janet extended the invitation, she was laid off after 10 years on the job.

I didn’t know much about Janet then –  I have since learned that she was much loved by her coworkers and those fortunate enough to tour the lot in her presence. 

It’s important that those who work in special places have an appreciation for their history, and for what they mean to people. This should be true whether it’s a metropolitan art museum, a Broadway theater, a venerable old sports arena, or Blondie Street. 

Janet got that. At the time of her dismissal she was working with Mischa on a “Friends of the Ranch” program that would have opened the street to visitors for the first time in its history. Now, that probably will not happen.

I’ll get there one day. I have a few somebodys who know somebodys who will be able to set something up. And as Blondie Street is still a valued part of the studio (you’ll also see it in more recent series like The Middle), I do not fear for its future. But it is without a caretaker now, and that concerns me.

There’s a reason we bestow landmark status on exceptional places. It elevates them above mere property controlled by a corporation, and protects them against the whims of the bureaucrat, the robber baron and the unenlightened. Blondie Street is a place to walk in the footsteps of television’s most beloved characters. It has the ability to reconnect adults with the blissful days of their childhoods.

Perhaps that’s not sufficient for the kind of safekeeping afforded to the Ryman Auditorium or the Old North Church. But if the home of Millard Fillmore can make the cut, so can the home of Samantha Stephens.