Wednesday, December 10, 2014
TV VIEWING 101: CLASS #7: INTRO TO VARIETY/SKETCH SHOWS
Good, you're all here, early morning? How sw-eet it is! Alright, it's a light day, and we'll be having these classes, a little more infrequently than we were, don't get too carried away, we'll still be having them regularly, but-eh, I'm beginning to realize that, unlike TV series, Classes on how to watch TV, should probably not air once a week, at least in blog form, so we're gonna aim for doing these, every two weeks or so, from now; I may call some of you back early sometimes, maybe later sometimes, depends on, what's going on, and right now, there's a lot going on.
And now, heeeeeeeere's you homework! Did you all do it? No, hmm, you had two weeks, alright we got a few, remember comedy or drama, what are the signs of a good TV series, and why? Can't wait to read these, a few of these, seem a few pages short, you had extra time on this one! Alright, we'll put those aside, and we're gonna have a little more fun this time. We're gonna talk about Variety and Sketch Comedy shows.
In many ways, variety and sketch, are essentially the purest forms of television in it's original. Well, actually they're two different things, variety and sketch, but in modern times, we tend to associate them together, because basically, the variety shows that- at least in America, the ones that are still regularly surviving and thriving on the Primetime landscape, have some main base of their shows in sketch comedy. "Saturday Night Live" is the obvious example, 'cause that's the one that still, sorta a remnant of the earlier era of the variety show, which, when you really go back, they were variety shows. And when you look back at the origins, they really were variety shows, they were a bunch of things that they put on television, because they needed things to put on television. So, if you have an act, they put you on television. You do your thing for a few minutes, and then we move onto the next act, that's really the idea of the variety, and we have to go back to that idea, of the appeal of television, there a little moving picture in your living room, that's major appeal, number one. Just find something to put on it.
This is why, and how sketch comedy, kinda started taking over, most of the original variety show ideas, they came vaudeville or music halls, or burlesque even, and if really want to go back, these old traveling circuses that would go from town to town, and if you really want to go back through the sketch comedy route, when end up at Comedia Dell'Arte, but we'll back up a bit from there, Basically, you'd have the singer, the comedians, the dancing girls, the magician, the ventriloquists, whatever it was, very classical entertainment structure, and the most thriving part that's still relevant from this early concept was an idea, of having a Master of Ceremonies or host or ringmaster of some kind to introduced the acts, and perform if they could and whatnot, and that's survive, even today. One version of this, evolved, into what we think of as the modern-day late night talk show, which is also a genre, that grew out of the same, vaudeville-to-radio-to-television, route, but that's the staple, that these shows revolved around, and what, really ended up happening is that, those shows, would inevitably take the mold and be formed around that host and his senses and abilities. This is why Ed Sullivan, would just introduce an act and then point to them, and why Sid Caesar would basically hire the future of comedy and put them in his writer's room. Even "SNL", what do we ask before we watch it, "Who's hosting tonight?" and then they have to base the show around the host that night. To give you a recent example of this, and because of the huge shift we're in right now with variety show hosts, switching channels and retiring and whatnot, but frankly I just want to look at the big one real quick, "The Daily Show". Some people don't even remember that Jon Stewart wasn't always the host of "The Daily Show", it actually started with a guy named Craig Kilbourn, and the idea of the show, it was basically a half-hour version of the Weekend Update on "SNL", (Which in of itself has changed over time too.) And Kilbourn was very funny, and very good, they'd go over the events of the day, and he would report them in a comedic way, similar to, the way a Chevy Chase or a Dennis Miller used to do on "SNL", and it would stretch over half-an-hour, there'd be a guest, and his most popular segment was the "5 Questions" segment, which became a bit, and he got so popular, he got his own show on CBS, (If this sounds familiar btw...) "The Late Late Show", which came on after Letterman, and he was going up against Conan for awhile, and he was popular there too as well, but then Comedy Central hired Jon Stewart, who did actually have a show at one point, on MTV that was a popular variety show for awhile, but then he started taking over "The Daily Show", and then it started evolving, and what it became, wasn't so much making fun of the news and the personalities, it started making fun of the news agencies themselves, satirizing them, as well as taking a more critical look at the most important stories instead of an overall, Mort Saul-type bit. Where Kilbourn, would basically, open up the newspaper, metaphorically, and make fun of everything, "The Daily Show", became more investigatory, had more reports than they did before from correspondence, who were other comics, and so on and so forth, it continued to evolve. Kilbourn, originally came from a news background, you see, he had some comedic ability, he actually was on "Sportscenter" originally, and "The Daily Show" became that kind of combination, but with Stewart, it evolved to the show we know now, and Craig Kilbourn, who actually was still fairly popular, in fact, he quit "The Late Late Show", after a few years; most think he was fired, but still, when you consider just how important and influential "The Daily Show" ended up becoming,- he's a footnote now, basically. He's still around; he's had a couple other shows here and there, Kilbourn, he was in the movie "Old School", he's had a few things going, but compare to how Stewart took 'The Daily Show" into a whole different place than we've ever seen before in the genre, he's kinda become unfortunately.
So when we look back at the great variety shows, not necessarily the important ones,- like I said about "The Ed Sullivan Show", that show's important as a document of history really. I think he also came from news; he was a newspaperman a reporter and columnist if I remember correctly, so his show's important because he had Elvis and The Beatles. The great variety shows, Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason, Carol Burnett, The Smothers Brother, eh, "Laugh-In", is kinda the one major pre-"SNL" exception where it might have been more about the image of the people behind the camera, and they reinvented the form as well, um, Dean Martin, Milton Berle, those are the ones that truly stand out, and then the ones that don't, still were molded by the host. Andy Williams, Lawrence Welk, those shows are basically, eh,- I mean, they had other things. The Osmonds, I guess, eh, well Andy Williams had the Osmonds, Lawrence Welk, was big band leader, so he had a big band, and bubbles apparently. It's people like that, which is why, the genre in that form, has not evolved too well. Although, you can, think of,-eh, some of the competition reality shows, like "American Idol", or "America's Got Talent" especially, or even "Star Search" in the olden days, as the shows that evolved from that, and those twists on it, and they're the same twist, that we haven't seen these talented people yet, as oppose to the other talented people that we had seen before, and that was the thing, once you saw on ventriloquist, you had seen them all, or one dancing gorilla act or whatever it was, Even the old vaudeville stars, of old,- there's a reason that era's sometimes called the Golden Age of Television, 'cause all of these incredible, multi-talented stars, and they were,- we use the word "Triple Threat" these days, for actor/singer/dancer people, they were more than triple threat,- if you needed a drummer and Sammy Davis, Jr. needed a job that night, he'd sit in at drums, or three or four other instruments, it's a completely different era of entertainers with much different mindsets and skillsets, but all those old vaudeville routine, they'd do these routines, town-to-town-to-town-to-town, 30 nights a year, and then do them on radio, then evolve them to TV, they had them mastered, they were already perfect, but, then they were on television, now everybody's seen them. Stand-up comics are dealing with this now, in the age of the internet, poor Hannibal Burress, he doesn't have his Bill Cosby joke, anymore, everybody's heard it already, and that was just on Youtube, on Primetime television, when you only have three networks, basically, a third of country has already seen you, and the novelty wore off really quickly, and then you had to keep coming up with new routines and this is where the people who went into comedy really thrived, 'cause of how they'd evolved the ideas of these comedic vaudeville comedians and stand-ups and bits, into more elaborate sketches and routines, that were more topical and personal and of the time.
Okay, this is a light day for most of us, so let's make it a light homework day as well. Take a look at your favorite variety shows today,- first of all, what is a sketch, actually. Well, talk more about the origin of sketch comedy and in particular, the influence of improv, on, at least American sketch comedy, you can look this up, and what isn't a sketch. Then one or two of your favorite variety shows now, and I know, we kinda loosely think of them as talk as oppose to variety, but think about what influences them. Not just other shows either, think about how the guys in charge have shaped them. Think "Real Time with Bill Maher" is very different than "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver", despite, the many similarities, two great stand-up comics, both politically inclined and inspired, but they're two ver-ry different approaches to the variety show. And if you want some extra credit, look up variety shows in other countries, 'cause some of the older approaches to variety, are still thriving there. England, they're still relevant, that format, eh, in-eh, the Spanish-language "Sabado Gigante", it's often thought of as the Latin "Saturday Night Live", it's not really a good direct comparison, and just consider, the emcees, the acts, how the show is shaped through the emcees, the vaudeville/music hall influence, how much, how little, do these things effect the genre?
Alright, that's it for today, that's "All That". Do they still have "All That"? Probably not. Don't think teens or children's shows aren't variety too, "The Muppet Show", "Sesame Street", "You Can't Do That on Television", something more modern, I'm sure, there's variety influence there too, big time. Alright, class dismissed.