Archive for August, 2008

Top Ten Summer TV Series That Went On to Become Big Hits or Cult Classics

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Back in the ’60s and ’70s, it was standard practice for the networks to replace many of their popular shows in June, July and August with short-run comedy and variety shows, such as This is Johnny Cash and The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. That changed, however, in the 80s, as HBO, Showtime, and other cable networks came into force. For years the broadcast nets conceded the summer to the cable channels networks gave up on the summer . . . until Regis came along in 1999 with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, followed by Survivor in 2000, then American Idol in 2002. Now the networks are back to creating original summer shows, such as Flashpoint and Swingtown on CBS, in the hopes that one of them will catch fire and become TV’s next big hit. 

With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some other summer series that either became big, big hits or have continued to live on as cult classics:

10. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (summer series in 1999, big hit in 2000)
9. Sonny & Cher (summer series in 1971, big hit throughout the early ’70s)
8. Northern Exposure (summer series in 1990, big hit throughout the ’90s)
7. The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd (NBC summer series in 1987, major cable series for Lifetime throughout the early 1990s)
6. Coronet Blue (Fugitive-like summer series from 1967; still a cult classic)
5. Buffalo Bill (summer series in 1983; still a cult classic)
4. Fernwood 2-Night (summer replacement for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman in 1977; still a cult classic)
3. (tie) Survivor and American Idol (summer series in 2000 and 2002, still big network hits)
2.  The Prisoner (summer replacement for The Jackie Gleason Show in 1968; still a cult classic)
1. Seinfeld (the pilot originally aired in the summer of 1989)

Ed Robertson
Pop Culture Critic and Television Historian
Every other Tuesday at 10:3opm ET, 7:30pm PT
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Standing His Ground: Interview with Brian Copeland

Monday, August 18th, 2008

Brian Copeland is one of the top voices on KGO radio, but he also knows his television. When he first developed Not a Genuine Black Man—his riveting one-man show about growing up black in San Leandro in the early 1970s, at a time when the East Bay suburb was notoriously 99.9 percent white and determined to keep it that way—he set out to capture the style of All in the Family, Good Times, Maude and other groundbreaking comedies produced by Norman Lear, where the audience finds themselves laughing hysterically one moment and sobbing the next. “It would be really funny—then you’d find out Edith got raped, and you’d go, ‘Where in the hell did that came from?’” he explains. “Or you’d watch Good Times, there’d be a hilarious line, then all of a sudden J.J. gets shot by a gangbanger. So when I wrote the show, I knew the rhythms I wanted were the rhythms of Norman Lear.”Copeland nails those rhythms in Genuine, the long-running San Francisco solo show from 2004 that recently debuted in San Jose after successful runs in Los Angeles and off-Broadway. The show runs at the Historic Hoover Theatre through Aug. 24. At a time when Barack Obama calls for a national discussion on race in America, Copeland provides that and more in a two-hour roller-coaster ride that explores how our surroundings (and surviving them) make us who we are. It’s an evening of theatre you won’t soon forget.

I recently had a chance to chat with Brian Copeland for The Wave Magazine. Among other topics, we spoke about his one-man show, his beginnings in stand-up comedy, and how making a roomful of people laugh really is better than sex. An excerpt from our conversation appears below; the complete interview is available by clicking here.

What made you want to be a comic?
BC: I always loved comedy growing up. Then when I was in high school, I saw Richard Pryor: Live in Concert on HBO, and it literally changed my life. I did not know that comedy could be like that. Here’s a guy who’s talking about all of the things that happened to him the previous year, about being drunk on vodka and shooting the tires off his wife’s car and leaving, about his heart attack and having a dialogue with his heart (“Please don’t kill me”), about snorting cocaine and about how his father behaved at his mother’s funeral. In fact, Genuine is a lot like that concert film in spirit, because it’s very truthful.

This was the early ’80s (I was class of ’82). The comedy boom was just starting. Tommy Thomas, who’d been my CYO baseball coach when I was a fifth grader, opened up the original Tommy T’s Comedy House in San Leandro, right up the street from my house. The week after I graduated from high school, I called Tommy and said, “I’m thinking about trying comedy. Do you have an open mic night?” This was like five o’clock on a Tuesday. He said, “No, but I have a comic sick tonight, can you do about 15 minutes?” Being 18 years old, I said, “Sure!” Today I’d say, “Are you out of your mind?” But I’m 18 years old, “Sure!”So I pulled out the newspaper and wrote a bunch of stuff. It was a small crowd, maybe 20 people, and they laughed. Tommy invited me to come back the next Tuesday. The next Tuesday, I packed the place with friends and family, I wrote some more stuff, and I killed. Then the next week I came back, wrote a bunch more stuff, and died a horrible, horrible death. I was scared to go back on stage again for about nine months.

How’d you get over it?
BC: Just got back on the horse. I realized that I missed it. I realized there was nothing that made me feel like I felt when I thought of something, wrote it down, said it in front of an audience, and they reacted and responded. There is nothing like it, Ed, it really is better than sex. And only a real comic can understand that. To write a joke that you tell in front of 250 strangers and they laugh and applaud, it is better than the best sex you ever had.

Ed Robertson
Pop Culture Critic and Television Historian
Every other Tuesday at 10:3opm ET, 7:30pm PT
Share-a-Vision Radio,
Also available as a podcast via iTunes

In case you missed it, our tribute to William Conrad is now available on the archives page at