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February 1995, Week 2


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Shawn Levy <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 11 Feb 1995 15:35:34 CST
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----------------------------Original message----------------------------
On Wed, 8 Feb 1995, Matt McAllister wrote:
> I've been noticing
> for awhile now, in my opinion, that comedy is much better on TV than at the
> movies.
I think it's true, but it may always have been. For instance, whereas there
were many worthwhile comedies in the movies of the '50s, the television of
the era was a far, far greater trove of comedic talents -- Berle, Gleason,
Lucy and Desi, Kovacs, Your Show of Shows, Burns and Allen, etc. The
biggest comic film stars of the decade -- Martin and Lewis -- were better on
TV than in movies. And some of the best comedy writers of the '60s and '70s
-- Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Norman Lear, etc. -- were writing TV
comedy in the '50s.
One reason -- indeed, one related to the cinema's reaction to TV in the '50s
-- is that cinema (and cinema-going) has always been more of an 'event,'
both in the reception and in the production, whereas TV is an ongoing
process. In the time it took to make a comedy in the '50s -- say, 8 months
from script to screen for a Martin and Lewis film -- the Desilu people
would have produced ten times as much finished material. Where drama might
more usually benefit from the polish and scale implied in a feature film
production schedule (not to mention the meddling of autocratic producers),
comedy seems to thrive more in less structured, less centralized working
environments (Jacques Tati to the contrary, even Chaplin improvised vast
portions of his work).
Currently, comedy on TV is also closely tied to personalities -- Tim Allen,
Paul Reiser, Roseanne, Fran Drescher, Seinfeld, etc. -- in a way that film
comedy rarely manages to be. Right now, Jim Carrey is enjoying a run the
likes of which hasn't been seen in years. But how many years of
3-$100-million-pictures can he realistically sustain? Movie actors who
continually trot out the same personality wane at the boxoffice; the Golden
Age studios knew this and cast for variety. Even Stallone and Arnie try new
things. A comic doing the same shtick on the big screen tires very, very
fast (not since Woody Allen has anyone made more than a half-dozen or so hit
films in the same comic persona -- Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams and Steve
Martin have all checkered their careers with different sorts of roles -- and
many flops). But on TV, a comedy can be in the Neilsen top 10 for a decade.
And then 15 years later it can enjoy a sentimental reunion show while its
reruns clean-up in syndication.
     Shawn Levy | "In a far recess of summer
 [log in to unmask] | Monks are playing soccer."