Monday, May 20, 2013

Harry and Wally's Favorite TV Shows

1989, first edition, from Prentice Hall Press
Harry and Wally's Favorite TV Shows: A Fact-Filled Opinionated Guide to the Best and Worst on TV
Probably bought new, for $14.95
Worn paperback

Like 1985's Cult TV, the historical aspect of this book balances out its flaws.  H & W review (zero to four stars) about 2,100 different shows, from 1948 to the fall of 1989.  (I know the book claims it covers half a century, but it barely touches even the Truman era.)  The subtitle is more accurate than the title, in that these are not just their favorites but also shows that they hate, dislike, are indifferent to, or only slightly like.  Confusingly, a 2 1/2 star show may be described as "great," while another is a marginal recommendation.  There are noticeable typos and a few errors.  (For instance, I remembered Evie's parents as married on Out of This World, and Wikipedia confirms this, but H & W think Evie is the result of a fling.)  Sometimes they over-explain things, such as what "LBJ" stands for.  (As an abbreviation I mean, not his principles.)  And they have a strong bias against any show, especially a 1970s drama, that attempts to be "relevant."

On the other hand, the book is readable, even at 600+ pages, with a lively, sometimes funny style.  As with Cult TV, it captures the 1980s experience of TV shows becoming rewatchable on VHS, with those four intervening years making this even more possible.  And dig this for irony, "Until someone comes up with the ultimate in viewer-oriented channels (which we'd subscribe to tomorrow, no questions asked), it's definitely worth exploring" home video.  With Hulu and Youtube and etc., viewers do have much more ability to be their own "programmers."  But it was exciting in the late '80s to buy, rent, or check out from the library some of the shows you liked, or were at least curious about.  (I was a library volunteer the summer before I started college, '86, and I made show capsules for VHS boxes.)

There are smaller ironies here, like that no one on Fridays went on to greater fame.  (Cough*MichaelRichards*cough.)  If you run across this book (long out of print, never updated), you'll probably most get a kick out of reading the '80s reviews, since the reputations of the earlier shows haven't changed drastically in the last almost quarter-century.  Moonlighting had just left the air when this book was published, so it's that era.  And they just missed by a few months the classic ending to Newhart, which makes the opening of their review surprisingly prescient:  "Imagine this: Soon after Chicago psychologist Bob Hartley left his practice to write and teach, he and his wife split.  He changed his name, became a full-time writer, remarried, and moved east to run a small Vermont inn."

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