Filler Screen Savor

Great--Yes, Great--Moments In TV History.
By Tom Danehy

TV GUIDE RECENTLY ran a cover story listing the Top 100 most memorable moments in the history of television. It was one of those articles where the reader could agree with some of the picks and disagree with others, nod at some selections and smile at those which had all but slipped from memory.

Danehy The No. 1 pick was the televised landing on the Moon (a good pick), but No. 2 (ahead of Lee Harvey Oswald getting shot, the Watergate hearings and the O.J. Simpson verdict) was the I Love Lucy episode with her stuffing chocolates down her throat to keep up with the conveyor belt. Hey, nobody loved Lucy that much.

Some of their picks were inspired. No. 5 was the final episode of Newhart, where he woke up in bed with Suzanne Pleshette and the whole seven-year series had apparently been a bad dream brought on by a dinner of Japanese food.

Others led to some head scratching. The Samurai Delicatessen skit on Saturday Night Live came ahead of the Challenger disaster, the Nixon-Kennedy debates, and Roots. And neither Who Shot J.R. nor the last episode of Mary Tyler Moore made the Top 10. It includes the opening to Bonanza, but not to Gunsmoke. Oh, well.

So, I've come up with my own list to fill in the glaring blanks in theirs:

10. The pilot episode of Bakersfield P.D. The eight of us in America who actually watched this show meet regularly at the Eegee's on Campbell to lament its passing. The series started with two strikes by being on FOX, then quickly whiffed on strike three by being smarter than 90 percent of the American viewing public.

9. The Godfather saga. Director Francis Ford Coppola reworked the two Godfather movies (both of which won "Best Picture" Oscars) into one of the greatest mini-series of all time. Godfather, Part Two, which was actually prequel and sequel to the original, was taken apart and pasted to both ends of the first film to put the entire saga in chronological order. The result was nothing short of a masterpiece.

8. Julie Newmar appears as Catwoman on Batman. Did you ever see her in that suit?

7. The "To Serve Man" episode of The Twilight Zone. The TV Guide list includes "All The Time In The World," a classic episode where Burgess Meredith plays a tireless reader who emerges from a nuclear cataclysm and finds himself with all the books and time in the world. He then falls and breaks his only pair of glasses, leaving him nearly blind. That was cool, but not even close to that all-time classic line, "It's a cookbook!"

6. The "Goodbye, Henry Blake" episoide of M*A*S*H. The TV Guide list includes the final episode of M*A*S*H, the bloated, 2 1/2-hour thing that included one full hour for the kiss between Hawkeye and Margaret and another hour for all of the overpriced commercials.

But the best M*A*S*H episode is the one where Radar walks into the operating room at the end and announces the homeward-bound Henry Blake has died in a plane crash. That scene was actually kept secret from the actors. They all thought they were doing another scene when Radar (Gary Burghoff) walked in and read from a paper he had been handed at the last minute. The reactions were dramatic and timeless.

5. Brian's Song. ABC used to run made-for-TV movies as a regular series back in the '70s. A young filmmaker by the name of Steven Spielberg got his start in this series with the still-chilling Duel, a simple and simply terrifying tale of a big-rig trucker teasing, then harassing, then trying to kill an almost-defenseless motorist (Dennis Weaver).

But Brian's Song was the one that stands out. Based on a chapter in NFL great Gale Sayers' book I Am Third, the movie captures the poignant friendship between Sayers and Brian Piccolo, two running backs competing for a spot on the Chicago Bears.

They both make the team, become great friends, then Piccolo dies of cancer. Not a dry eye in America.

4. The Black/White episode of Star Trek. Their list has "The City on the Edge of Forever," the one where they go back to 1930s Chicago and Kirk falls in love with Joan Collins (which was cool, especially since he had to let her die to save the Enterprise); but the best episode (by a light-year) was the one where two guys brought their intergalactic race war to the Enterprise. The delicious slap at the stupidity of racism was that all of the animosity derived from the fact that one was black on the right side while the other was black on the left side. A classic.

3. The first episode of The White Shadow. Wow, a series about an Italian kid who plays on a mostly-black basketball team at an inner-city L.A. high school where the guys sing Temptations songs in the showers, blow off class, and live for basketball. I remember thinking, "Finally, a TV series about real people."

2. Barney Fife kisses Thelma Lou on The Andy Griffith Show. The flashpoint of the Sexual Revolution and the salvation for dorky guys all over America. When goofy-ass Barney made his move, relieved males across the country thought in unison, "Whoa, if that dude can kiss a girl, anybody can!" Then, as the '60s progressed, just about everybody did.

1. The Evan Mecham-Chuy Higuera debate. The confrontation emerged from the Mecham impeachment hearings and kept a state glued to its TV sets. The battle pitted Higuera, a state legislator from Tucson who served as the unofficial poster child for the English-only Prop. 106, against Evan Mecham, the only governor ever elected as the result of a mass hysteria-fueled practical joke. For hours they sniped at each other, with no one understanding a word either was saying. The closed-captioning people tried to keep up, but all they could print out were things like "Bad rug!" and "Shrimp cocktail."

A defining moment in my life and that of TV. TW

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