TelevisionWeek Executive Editor Tom Gilbert joins our roster of bloggers with this forum all about classic television, where anything from "Leave It to Beaver" to "Malcolm in the Middle" is fair game for discussion. Reunion specials, DVD releases of classic shows, vintage commercials -- anything that's ever been telecast is the hot topic here.


Timeless TV

February 2008 Archives

Memories of Joe and Rhoda

February 15, 2008 8:53 AM

David Groh's death Tuesday at a far-too-young 68 years old reminded me just how high the hopes once were for the "Rhoda" show in particular, and for Rhoda Morgenstern's relationship with Groh's bright and handsome Joe Gerard character in particular.

Those of us who followed Valerie Harper's development as the weight-challenged, kooky Minneapolis neighbor Rhoda on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and came to love her New York humor (and failures with the opposite sex) were ecstatic when she finally got her own series; plus, not only did she slim down and return to New York for the spin-off, she met her Prince Charming the first season to boot. What vindication! But Groh, for all of his manly appeal, proved to be Rhoda's undoing. Suddenly she wasn't as funny; she was beautiful now, and had a perfect mate. What's to laugh at? And even attempts to transfer her previous ugly-duckling plight onto schlumpy sister Brenda fell flat despite consistently brilliant turns by Julie Kavner.

The writers realized where they went wrong and tried to salvage matters by splitting Joe and Rhoda up by the beginning of the third season, but it was too late. The show had jumped the shark. It ran a couple more seasons then vanished mid-season.

Warm and Ozzie

February 11, 2008 12:47 PM

I recently came across the old “Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” show on KVCR-TV, the public broadcasting station in San Bernardino, Calif. It had been a long time since I’d seen that series, and I had a vague memory of it being very “radio”; by that I mean not very visual—if you close your eyes while it’s on and just listen, you don’t really miss anything. My interest piqued, I set the DVR to record it anytime it ran.

Viewing several episodes from the course of its 1952-66 ABC run confirmed my original opinion; after all, it did start out as a radio show way back in the ’40s. But even though it’s a stand-there-and-deliver-your-lines-to-a-laugh-track sort of affair, upon revisiting “Ozzie and Harriet” I found it to be disarmingly intriguing. That the Nelsons—Ozzie, wife Harriet and sons David and Ricky—were a real-life family imbued the dialog with a kind of shorthand, and the entire clan spoke with the same ironic inflection, making for an interesting sociological subtext to alleviate some of the more mundane plotlines. That, along with the outsized success Ricky Nelson experienced as a rock ’n’ roll idol right before your eyes, distinguished “Ozzie and Harriet” from similar contemporary family sitcoms like “Father Knows Best,” “The Donna Reed Show” and “Leave It to Beaver.”

In the middle years, when Ricky was at the peak of his success, the show was something of a cultural force; whitebread, to be sure, but nonetheless potent, as folks gathered around onscreen and off for one of his shoe-horned-in musical performances. (Apparently Ozzie, ever the astute businessman, would only allow Ricky to perform on the family show; no “Ed Sullivan” or “Tonight Show” for him. As million-seller records bolstered Ricky’s popularity, the show’s must-see appeal to younger viewers took off.)

In the assortment of shows aired by KVCR were a couple of color episodes from the final season (who even knew it ever went to color?). But by then, its time was up. The boys were way grown with families of their own, and Ozzie and Harriet were pretty much left to themselves and their cloying middle-aged neighbors (Joe and Clara Randolph, anyone?).