Interview Treats

Many of you may already be familiar with these, but for those of you who are not, I am happy to introduce you to the Archive of American Television*. They offer a variety of in depth interviews with legendary faces behind and in front of the camera back in the earlier days of television. If you ask me about my dream job, this would be it: initiating serious, easeful conversations with the people who created my favorite screen memories.

Below you can find a selection of my favorite interviews, but there are many more for you to enjoy. If you’re like me, you’ll end up spending an entire weekend exploring the archive and listening to your favorite people. Just grab a cup of tea, some cookies and a blanket, then cuddle up on the couch with your laptop nearby and embrace the stories and memories of your childhood heroes. It’s a real treat!

Alan Alda, Julie Andrews, Bea Arthur, Tom Bosley, Carol Burnett, Tyne Daly, James Garner, Sharon Gless, Katherine Helmond, Shirley Jones, Eartha Kitt, Angela Lansbury, Jack Lemmon, Rue McClanahan, Mary Tyler Moore, Diana Muldaur, Phylicia Rashad, Della Reese, Marion Ross, Jean Stapleton, Gale Storm, Loretta Swit, Dick Van Dyke, Betty White, Jane Wyman and many others…

* The Archive of American Television is also on Youtube. You can find their TV Legends channel here.

My Friend Irma

TV classics: My Friend Irma

USA 1952-54, 2 season,  episodes approximately 30 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Cast: Marie Wilson, Mary Shipp, Sid Tomack and others

Plot summary: Irma Peterson lives with her roommate Jane Stacy who has many stories to tell about her sweet but simple-minded friend.

Review: Like many of its contemporary hit shows, My Friend Irma started out as a popular radio program. Created by Cy Howard, the show was on the air for seven consecutive years before it found its way to television in the last two years of its enduring success, starring Marie Wilson as Irma Peterson. Introduced by her savvy roommate Jane Stacy (Mary Shipp), each episode covered a mishap adventure of the show’s title character Irma. Sweet but not the brightest bulb in the city, the ingenuous secretary from Minnesota easily stumbled into trouble with her boss, her nitwit boyfriend or other recurring characters on the show, a fact that amused her roommate as much as the audience. With her simple mind and sweet nature, the character could very well have been an inspiration for Betty White’s beloved Rose Nylund from The Golden Girls, a show that’s still popular amongst fans of all ages. As a lighthearted comedy program, My Friend Irma also has the potential to entertain old fans and new ones, especially those who are interested in classic comedy and storytelling. Although sometimes silly and over the top, the show is entertaining and a lovely distraction for anyone who is tired of the anything-goes plots and reality TV of today, and one of those gems from Hollywood’s golden days a lot of us have a great time exploring again in public domain or on DVD.

My Friend Irma sample episodes “Irma Gets Engaged” and “Dating Barrington”

Side note: For movie buffs, the show also had two successful spins on the silver screen, introducing Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin to an adoring audience in My Friend Irma (1949) and My Friend Irma Goes West (1950).

Then and Now

It’s interesting how your perception shifts when you change your viewing patterns. When you watch classic programs only for a while and then return to what’s currently going on on TV, at the movies or online. It gives you a whole new perspective on what works for you and what doesn’t, on how styles have changed and what kinds of issues have evolved when and why. It can give you reassurance about how little our key issues have changed over the decades or make you cry at the loss of dignity and a certain kind of innocence that’s too often been mislabeled ignorance. My conclusion is this: they tend to overdo it these days.

Take Grey’s Anatomy. Once a celebrated new show, it is now a guilty pleasure gem with an entertaining cast and a soapy plot. Not only do they pick up where ER left off at trying to make its audience cringe every week by showing pseudo-realistic shots of injuries that border the macabre, they are also trying to push the boundaries of emotional storytelling. This year’s Valentine’s Day episode, for example, was a little bit of everything: romantic with the right dash of cheese and nostalgia, and a little bit of medical drama on the side. It all went well until the sappy was blown out of proportion as the episode was already on home stretch: a staged romantic dinner at the hospital, maitre d’ included, taking the twists and turns way beyond the already maxed out entertainment factor.

Something similar happened on an otherwise brilliant show now in its third year, The Good Wife. Early in its current season, two of the (vast pool of) main characters got engaged in a sizzling affair. Fine. Half of Perry Mason‘s clients were somehow affected by adultery back in the 1950s and 60s, and after all, that was one of the main topics The Good Wife started out on. But was it really necessary to show us scenes of the likes of a censored soft porn? It didn’t seem to fit the style of the show nor the voice of the characters involved. But maybe that was the point: expect the unexpected, break the rules to keep the audience on their toes. That’s how it works these days, isn’t it? It’s like film noir only at a much faster, dizzier pace.

When I compare contemporary shows with classic programs, it’s striking how dissimilar they are. Cursing, sex and violence – almost anything goes these days – trust pay TV to throw the last taboos overboard if necessary. Personally, I have tired of programs that keep raising the stakes, that show adults who behave like depressed teenagers and dress women in so-called hooker heels. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy some of what’s out there, of what 2012 has to offer. But the options are somewhat limited if reality TV isn’t for you and the ever so popular dramedies tap into the marginally acceptable areas of nerdification, pornification and gayification, repeating themselves over and over again by creating unfortunate clichés.

It doesn’t surprise me that so many people are buying their favorite childhood programs on DVD now, that they are looking for reruns on TV or online. Funny enough, that kind of repetition never seems to get old. And I can only recommend embracing your favorite classics, at least for a while. It may open your eyes.