1. Tonight on the Sundance cable network, Maggie Gyllenhaal stars in a new eight-part miniseries that couldn’t be more timely: It’s about a woman who finds herself embroiled in the political tensions of the Middle East, and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Our TV critic, David Bianculli, has this review of The Honorable Woman:


"Writer-director Hugo Blick peels back and reveals the elements of his story, and the motivations and relationships of his characters, very slowly. A scream you hear in episode one isn’t explained until episode four, and the pain behind anguished glances isn’t evident until you’ve clocked hours of TV time. But by that time, The Honorable Woman has taken you places where TV seldom ventures. Not only to the tunnels under the Gaza Strip – and I couldn’t believe I was seeing scenes set in those tunnels, after they’ve figured so prominently in the news – but to the deepest fears and hopes and dreams and despairs of the show’s characters. Politically, The Honorable Woman doesn’t take sides – it comes at you from all sides. And all sides are given motivations and conflicts, which makes this miniseries both a rare and a rewarding viewing experience. The characters in The Honorable Woman may not know whom to trust – but trust me. This is one TV drama not to miss.”


View in High-Res

    Tonight on the Sundance cable network, Maggie Gyllenhaal stars in a new eight-part miniseries that couldn’t be more timely: It’s about a woman who finds herself embroiled in the political tensions of the Middle East, and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Our TV critic, David Bianculli, has this review of The Honorable Woman:

    "Writer-director Hugo Blick peels back and reveals the elements of his story, and the motivations and relationships of his characters, very slowly. A scream you hear in episode one isn’t explained until episode four, and the pain behind anguished glances isn’t evident until you’ve clocked hours of TV time. But by that time, The Honorable Woman has taken you places where TV seldom ventures. Not only to the tunnels under the Gaza Strip – and I couldn’t believe I was seeing scenes set in those tunnels, after they’ve figured so prominently in the news – but to the deepest fears and hopes and dreams and despairs of the show’s characters. Politically, The Honorable Woman doesn’t take sides – it comes at you from all sides. And all sides are given motivations and conflicts, which makes this miniseries both a rare and a rewarding viewing experience. The characters in The Honorable Woman may not know whom to trust – but trust me. This is one TV drama not to miss.”

  2. the honorable woman

    maggie gyllenhaal

    sundance

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    palestine

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  1. Fresh Air TV critic David Bianculli reviews two new creepy sci-fi shows premiering this week, Extant and The Strain:

    "Extant has a premise that could go places, but based on the pilot, many of those places are awfully, unimpressively familiar. The moment when Halle Berry, as female astronaut Molly Watts, encounters an anomaly in space, it’s while talking to her family back home, and to her onboard computer, when she loses the video signal. The computer isn’t named HAL, as in 2001: A Space Odyssey – it’s named Ben. But still…

    Much better, even though it treads on similarly familiar ground, is FX’s The Strain. This one stars Corey Stoll, who’s more than up to the demands of a leading role – in supporting parts, he played the out-of-control young congressman in Netflix’s House of Cards, and a memorably magnetic Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. In The Strain, he plays a scientist named Ephraim Goodweather, who heads the Centers for Disease Control team called in to investigate a very bizarre airline disaster. The plane has landed safely in New York – but neither the crew nor the passengers have made a move, or a sound, since, and may not even be alive.”

  2. extant

    the strain

    david bianculli

    review

    guillermo del toro

    sci-fi

  1. Fresh Air TV critic David Bianculli says there’s a talk show we should be watching that’s not broadcast by CBS, NBC or ABC, or even Comedy Central. It’s The Graham Norton Show imported by BBC America and shown on Saturday nights. And though it and the host have been around for years, David says it’s never been better. Matt Damon even said “This is the best time I’ve ever had on a talk show.” 

    Hear the review:

    Why did Damon enjoy himself so much? Well, he got to swap stories with fellow guests Bill Murray and Hugh Bonneville while swigging champagne, and even knock an audience member off his chair in a specially rigged ejector seat. One secret ingredient of Norton’s show is that, most of the time, the guests all come out at once, sitting and interacting together the way they used to on the old Merv Griffin Show. The other secret ingredient is that Norton, like Craig Ferguson, isn’t so much interested in what a celebrity is there to plug as almost anything else.

  2. the graham norton show

    matt damon

    bill murray

    hugh bonneville

    BBC

    david bianculli

  1. Sunday night, HBO presents a new TV version of  "The Normal Heart", Larry Kramer’s 1985 play about the early years of the AIDS crisis. Kramer himself wrote the screenplay adaptation, which stars Mark Ruffalo and Julia Roberts and is directed by Ryan Murphy, producer of “Glee.” 
Our TV critic, David Bianculli says — 

"When Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart was presented by New York’s Public Theater in 1985, its inside-out look at the early history of the spread of the HIV virus and AIDS was both a howl of pain and a call for action and help. When a new production appeared in 2011, it won the Tony award for Best Revival of a Play. Now it’s back again, in a substantially revised made-for-TV movie on HBO – and one of the remarkable things about it is that, nearly 30 years after it first was staged, The Normal Heart still seems both raw and relevant.”

You can listen to the rest of Bianculli’s review here. 
Photo via HBO View in High-Res

    Sunday night, HBO presents a new TV version of  "The Normal Heart", Larry Kramer’s 1985 play about the early years of the AIDS crisis. Kramer himself wrote the screenplay adaptation, which stars Mark Ruffalo and Julia Roberts and is directed by Ryan Murphy, producer of “Glee.” 

    Our TV critic, David Bianculli says — 

    "When Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart was presented by New York’s Public Theater in 1985, its inside-out look at the early history of the spread of the HIV virus and AIDS was both a howl of pain and a call for action and help. When a new production appeared in 2011, it won the Tony award for Best Revival of a Play. Now it’s back again, in a substantially revised made-for-TV movie on HBO – and one of the remarkable things about it is that, nearly 30 years after it first was staged, The Normal Heart still seems both raw and relevant.”

    You can listen to the rest of Bianculli’s review here. 

    Photo via HBO

  2. tv worth watching

    David Bianculli

    HBO

    The Normal Heart

    reviews

  1. Our TV critic David Bianculli reviews “The Maya Rudolph Show,” the latest rare attempt by network TV to revive the long-dormant variety show genre —

"On Monday night, NBC presented The Maya Rudolph Show, a one-hour prime-time variety special executive produced by Lorne Michaels and featuring many of their mutual Saturday Night Live cohorts: Fred Armisen, Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell. It also co-starred Kristen Bell, Sean Hayes and singer Janelle Monae. The Maya Rudolph Show was an intentional effort to bring back the old-school TV variety show, but with a new-school slant that bathed most of the show in a distancing self-awareness. Even the introductory number by Rudolph made fun of the genre rather than committing to it.
Despite all the guest stars and talent, most of The Maya Rudolph Show fell strangely flat. There was no continuity between segments, and, as on SNL, many comedy sketches just seemed to stop rather than conclude. And while the hostess sang comedy songs with many of her comedy guests, she didn’t share the stage with the hour’s featured musical guest — another missed opportunity.”


Photo of  Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph in The Maya Rudolph Show (Paul Drinkwater/NBC) View in High-Res

    Our TV critic David Bianculli reviews The Maya Rudolph Show,” the latest rare attempt by network TV to revive the long-dormant variety show genre —

    "On Monday night, NBC presented The Maya Rudolph Show, a one-hour prime-time variety special executive produced by Lorne Michaels and featuring many of their mutual Saturday Night Live cohorts: Fred Armisen, Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell. It also co-starred Kristen Bell, Sean Hayes and singer Janelle Monae. The Maya Rudolph Show was an intentional effort to bring back the old-school TV variety show, but with a new-school slant that bathed most of the show in a distancing self-awareness. Even the introductory number by Rudolph made fun of the genre rather than committing to it.

    Despite all the guest stars and talent, most of The Maya Rudolph Show fell strangely flat. There was no continuity between segments, and, as on SNL, many comedy sketches just seemed to stop rather than conclude. And while the hostess sang comedy songs with many of her comedy guests, she didn’t share the stage with the hour’s featured musical guest — another missed opportunity.”

    Photo of  Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph in The Maya Rudolph Show (Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

  2. David Bianculli

    Fresh Air

    The Maya Rudolph Show

    NBC

    TV

    tv worth watching

  1. In 1981, NBC presented a new police series called Hill Street Blues – a pivotal show in the history of quality television. It’s just been released on DVD, in its entirety, for the first time – and our TV critic, David Bianculli, says the show was a game changer — 

"Before NBC televised Hill Street, most continuing drama series were presented as stand-alone, interchangeable hours, starring the same characters. Every week, Mannix or Kojak or Baretta would investigate a crime, catch the villains, and wait for next week to do it again. Hill Street borrowed from daytime soap operas, and presented sequential story lines, which carried over from week to week.
There were other innovations, too. Instead of one or two central stars, Hill Street featured a large ensemble cast. Camerawork was often hand-held and frantic, more like a documentary. Dialogue overlapped and sounded natural, as in a Robert Altman movie. Scenes of intense drama sometimes were followed by moments of broad humor. And the crimes themselves, and the solving of them, usually took a back seat to the private lives of the cops, officers and lawyers who populated the show.”

Photo of the Hill Street Blues cast via Fanpix

    In 1981, NBC presented a new police series called Hill Street Bluesa pivotal show in the history of quality television. It’s just been released on DVD, in its entirety, for the first time – and our TV critic, David Bianculli, says the show was a game changer —

    "Before NBC televised Hill Street, most continuing drama series were presented as stand-alone, interchangeable hours, starring the same characters. Every week, Mannix or Kojak or Baretta would investigate a crime, catch the villains, and wait for next week to do it again. Hill Street borrowed from daytime soap operas, and presented sequential story lines, which carried over from week to week.

    There were other innovations, too. Instead of one or two central stars, Hill Street featured a large ensemble cast. Camerawork was often hand-held and frantic, more like a documentary. Dialogue overlapped and sounded natural, as in a Robert Altman movie. Scenes of intense drama sometimes were followed by moments of broad humor. And the crimes themselves, and the solving of them, usually took a back seat to the private lives of the cops, officers and lawyers who populated the show.”

    Photo of the Hill Street Blues cast via Fanpix

  2. Hill Street Blues

    David Bianculli

    Fresh Air

    tv worth watching

  1. Fresh Air’s TV critic David Bianculli reviews the new series  Fargo, based on the 1996 Coen Brothers cult classic. Here’s what he says: 



When the news arrives that FX has a new series called Fargo, the expectation is that it will be either a sequel to, or expansion of, that 18-year-old movie. And certainly, the previews have done nothing to discourage that.

But no. The TV version of Fargo tells a completely different story, with completely different characters. Only the snow remains the same. Yet based on the first four episodes, this new Fargo is a worthy companion piece to the film. The Coen brothers are on board as two of the executive producers, so they clearly approve – though that’s pretty much the extent of their involvement. Instead, FX’s Fargo is written and concocted by Noah Hawley, whose previous credits include working on Bones, and not much else. This is his step up to the major leagues – and in his first at-bat in the bigs, he swings hard, and hits a home run.

His Fargo – this first season, anyway – is envisioned as a stand-alone 10-part story. If it continues to a Season 2, it will be with a completely different plot, characters, and cast. That’s the way True Detective launched itself this season on HBO, and you know how brilliantly that turned out. By designing TV shows this way – longer and deeper than a feature film but not running for years – networks can get A-list movie talent to commit, and writers can craft stories with the end in sight from the start.
FX’s Fargo benefits from that, greatly.

Hear the full review HERE. 



 

image via FX  View in High-Res

    Fresh Air’s TV critic David Bianculli reviews the new series  Fargo, based on the 1996 Coen Brothers cult classic. Here’s what he says: 

    When the news arrives that FX has a new series called Fargo, the expectation is that it will be either a sequel to, or expansion of, that 18-year-old movie. And certainly, the previews have done nothing to discourage that.

    But no. The TV version of Fargo tells a completely different story, with completely different characters. Only the snow remains the same. Yet based on the first four episodes, this new Fargo is a worthy companion piece to the film. The Coen brothers are on board as two of the executive producers, so they clearly approve – though that’s pretty much the extent of their involvement. Instead, FX’s Fargo is written and concocted by Noah Hawley, whose previous credits include working on Bones, and not much else. This is his step up to the major leagues – and in his first at-bat in the bigs, he swings hard, and hits a home run.

    His Fargo – this first season, anyway – is envisioned as a stand-alone 10-part story. If it continues to a Season 2, it will be with a completely different plot, characters, and cast. That’s the way True Detective launched itself this season on HBO, and you know how brilliantly that turned out. By designing TV shows this way – longer and deeper than a feature film but not running for years – networks can get A-list movie talent to commit, and writers can craft stories with the end in sight from the start.

    FX’s Fargo benefits from that, greatly.

    Hear the full review HERE.

     

    image via FX 

  2. fargo

    coen brothers

    tv

    review

    david bianculli

  1. This review discusses the plotline of Mad Men, up through the end of Season Six: 

Our TV critic David Bianculli was given the tricky task of reviewing the Season Seven opener of Mad Men, without giving too much away: 

When we last saw Jon Hamm as Madison Avenue advertising genius Don Draper, Draper had stripped off the façade he had worn as protection throughout the series. He confessed to his true past, as a boy raised in a whorehouse — not only to his children, but to his colleagues at work, during a pitch to an advertising client. Immediately, he lost his chance to move to the West Coast office his firm was opening — and there were bound to be other consequences. This final season, it appears, will be all about those consequences.
Don always has been resourceful, and resilient, and those traits are in full display in the season seven opener. His confession last season has altered him — in his behavior as well as his demeanor, he’s a noticeably changed man. You can tell that even from one of the few scenes from Mad Men that reveals no secrets about where the series is going — just that Don is going somewhere, on a plane.



Photo by Michael Yarish/AMC View in High-Res

    This review discusses the plotline of Mad Men, up through the end of Season Six: 

    Our TV critic David Bianculli was given the tricky task of reviewing the Season Seven opener of Mad Men, without giving too much away: 

    When we last saw Jon Hamm as Madison Avenue advertising genius Don Draper, Draper had stripped off the façade he had worn as protection throughout the series. He confessed to his true past, as a boy raised in a whorehouse — not only to his children, but to his colleagues at work, during a pitch to an advertising client. Immediately, he lost his chance to move to the West Coast office his firm was opening — and there were bound to be other consequences. This final season, it appears, will be all about those consequences.

    Don always has been resourceful, and resilient, and those traits are in full display in the season seven opener. His confession last season has altered him — in his behavior as well as his demeanor, he’s a noticeably changed man. You can tell that even from one of the few scenes from Mad Men that reveals no secrets about where the series is going — just that Don is going somewhere, on a plane.

    Photo by Michael Yarish/AMC

  2. mad men

    don draper

    matthew weiner

    1960s

    amc tv

    david bianculli

    review

    TV

  1. 
Fresh Air TV critic David Bianculli reviews Parenthood: 

It’s not too late to dive into Parenthood for these last two shows of the season — or, after a taste, to do your homework, and start at the beginning, watching them on DVD or streaming video. Just don’t let it escape your notice. Family dramas always have been one of television’s most difficult genres to do properly, without getting too sweet, too overwrought, or much too predictable. Parenthood, like Friday Night Lights, is as good as the family drama genre gets.


image via NBC
View in High-Res

    Fresh Air TV critic David Bianculli reviews Parenthood

    It’s not too late to dive into Parenthood for these last two shows of the season — or, after a taste, to do your homework, and start at the beginning, watching them on DVD or streaming video. Just don’t let it escape your notice. Family dramas always have been one of television’s most difficult genres to do properly, without getting too sweet, too overwrought, or much too predictable. Parenthood, like Friday Night Lights, is as good as the family drama genre gets.

    image via NBC

  2. parenthood

    friday night lights

    ray romano

    family drama

    david bianculli

    review

  1. Our TV critic, David Bianculli, reviews the season openers of Game of Thrones, Veep, and the new series Silicon Valley:

    HBO presents three series Sunday night – the season premieres of Game of Thrones and Veep, and the start of a new comedy, Silicon Valley.  But whether they’re set in mythical kingdoms, Washington, D.C. or Northern California, these three very different shows have two things in common. One is that they’re all entertaining, with characters that get more interesting the more you watch them. The other is that, bottom line, they’re all about power struggles.

    Hear the full review here

    Bianculli is the founder and editor of tvworthwatching

  2. game of thrones

    veep

    silicon valley

    david bianculli

  1. Last Sunday on the CBS drama series The Good Wife, something major and unexpected happened. Our TV critic, David Bianculli, has a lot to say:

For the past few years, whenever I’ve been challenged to name a series on broadcast TV that’s the equal of shows produced for cable or streaming networks, my instant go-to example has been The Good Wife on CBS. And boy, did series creators Robert and Michelle King prove that this past weekend.


Listen to the full review.

View in High-Res

    Last Sunday on the CBS drama series The Good Wife, something major and unexpected happened. Our TV critic, David Bianculli, has a lot to say:

    For the past few years, whenever I’ve been challenged to name a series on broadcast TV that’s the equal of shows produced for cable or streaming networks, my instant go-to example has been The Good Wife on CBS. And boy, did series creators Robert and Michelle King prove that this past weekend.

    Listen to the full review.

  2. the good wife

    david bianculli

  1. Fresh Air TV critic David Bianculli (of tvworthwatching) reviews the new HBO series Doll & Em, starring real life best friends Dolly Wells (left) and Emily Mortimer.
After a traumatic break up, Dolly leaves England for Los Angeles to serve as Emily’s personal assistant while she films a movie. The two must navigate the “fairly rigid Hollywood class system,” exposing vanity and insecurities along the way. Bianculli writes:

What weighs down this sitcom, especially at first, is its lack of subtlety. Plot points, like recurring jokes, are hammered home too hard and much too obviously. Even the closing theme song, “Why Can’t We Be Friends?,” telegraphs that things will get worse before they get better.
Despite all that, though, if you stick with Doll & Em, eventually it will stick with you, too. And as the central dynamic shifts and the friendship unravels, you’ll care about both of them, and what happens next.


image via HBO View in High-Res

    Fresh Air TV critic David Bianculli (of tvworthwatching) reviews the new HBO series Doll & Em, starring real life best friends Dolly Wells (left) and Emily Mortimer.

    After a traumatic break up, Dolly leaves England for Los Angeles to serve as Emily’s personal assistant while she films a movie. The two must navigate the “fairly rigid Hollywood class system,” exposing vanity and insecurities along the way. Bianculli writes:

    What weighs down this sitcom, especially at first, is its lack of subtlety. Plot points, like recurring jokes, are hammered home too hard and much too obviously. Even the closing theme song, “Why Can’t We Be Friends?,” telegraphs that things will get worse before they get better.

    Despite all that, though, if you stick with Doll & Em, eventually it will stick with you, too. And as the central dynamic shifts and the friendship unravels, you’ll care about both of them, and what happens next.

    image via HBO

  2. doll & em

    hbo

    emily mortimer

    dolly wells

    tvworthwatching

    david bianculli

  1. David Bianculli of tvworthwatching reviews the new NBC show Crisis:


Crisis pleasantly surprised me. It’s about a busload of high school kids – children of the very powerful, including the President,  in Washington, D.C. – whose field trip to New York gets detoured by kidnappers, who grab the kids and use them as leverage to get their parents to do their bidding.


 I know, this sounds so much like Hostages, it could almost be a rerun – except, this time around, the characters are painted with more depth, drama and surprises are a lot more plentiful, and Crisis starts out almost like a season of 24  — except without the ticking clock, and without Jack Bauer.
View in High-Res

    David Bianculli of tvworthwatching reviews the new NBC show Crisis:

    Crisis pleasantly surprised me. It’s about a busload of high school kids – children of the very powerful, including the President,  in Washington, D.C. – whose field trip to New York gets detoured by kidnappers, who grab the kids and use them as leverage to get their parents to do their bidding.

     I know, this sounds so much like Hostages, it could almost be a rerun – except, this time around, the characters are painted with more depth, drama and surprises are a lot more plentiful, and Crisis starts out almost like a season of 24  — except without the ticking clock, and without Jack Bauer.

  2. crisis

    nbc

    tv

    review

    david bianculli

    tvworthwatching

  1. David Bianculli directs your attention to a CBS documentary airing this Saturday  called The Whole Gritty City, and it follows young student marching bands as they prepare for coveted spots in the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans: 

48 Hours Presents: The Whole Gritty City is a documentary in the Fred Wiseman mold. The film, by Richard Barber and Andre Lambertson, has no narration — it just focuses on a specific subject for a lengthy amount of time, and lets the cameras record whatever happens. And then, all that raw footage is edited. The only scene-setting comes courtesy of Wynton Marsalis, who appears at the beginning, and a few more spots during the program, to explain the concept, the context — and the stakes.
"New Orleans buries too many of its young," says Marsalis, who was born and raised in New Orleans.
The opening scene of The Whole Gritty City turns out to be a flash-forward. We see, and hear, a very large group of young people playing band instruments outdoors, as part of a funeral service. They’re playing, sometimes, with more volume and emotion than precision, a few of them wiping tears away as they blow their horns.



photo courtesy of CBS 48 Hours Presents: The Whole Gritty City  View in High-Res

    David Bianculli directs your attention to a CBS documentary airing this Saturday called The Whole Gritty City, and it follows young student marching bands as they prepare for coveted spots in the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans:

    48 Hours Presents: The Whole Gritty City is a documentary in the Fred Wiseman mold. The film, by Richard Barber and Andre Lambertson, has no narration — it just focuses on a specific subject for a lengthy amount of time, and lets the cameras record whatever happens. And then, all that raw footage is edited. The only scene-setting comes courtesy of Wynton Marsalis, who appears at the beginning, and a few more spots during the program, to explain the concept, the context — and the stakes.

    "New Orleans buries too many of its young," says Marsalis, who was born and raised in New Orleans.

    The opening scene of The Whole Gritty City turns out to be a flash-forward. We see, and hear, a very large group of young people playing band instruments outdoors, as part of a funeral service. They’re playing, sometimes, with more volume and emotion than precision, a few of them wiping tears away as they blow their horns.

    photo courtesy of CBS 48 Hours Presents: The Whole Gritty City 

  2. fresh air

    david bianculli

    the whole gritty city

    documentary

    CBS

    new orleans

    marching band

    mardi gras

  1. David Bianculli on Sid Caesar, a pioneer of sketch comedy: 



Sid Caesar, who died Wednesday at age 91, was the driving engine behind NBC’s original “Saturday night live’’ – a show that had as great an impact on popular culture as the current SNL…

That series was Your Show of Shows, which ran on NBC from 1950-1954. It was broadcast in prime time, but other than that, everything about it sported the same template as Saturday Night Live, which would appear a TV generation later. Your Show of Shows, like the much later SNL, was 90 minutes long. It featured a guest host each week, and musical guests. And it was driven by a brilliant staff of performers and writers, the former led by Sid Caesar, with very able assistance from Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris.

That wasn’t Caesar’s only TV showcase series from the early days of television. Your Show of Shows had grown out of Admiral Broadway Revue the year before, which had been simulcast by NBC and DuMont the year before. And after the talent on Your Show of Shows opted to divide and conquer, Caesar went on to Caesar’s Hour, maintaining some of the Your Show of Show writers, and adding others – including Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen, just to name two.

And if you want to name the writers on Your Show of Shows, you can start with Caesar, Reiner, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon,  Danny Simon, Lucille Kallen, Max Liebman, and Mel Tolkin. Follow the resumes of all those writers, and you’ve got a legacy of 20th-century comedy every bit as impressive as that to spring from SNL or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

I teach Your Show of Shows in my TV History & Appreciation classes at New Jersey’s Rowan University – and every term, the comedy brilliance and antic energy of This Is Your Story (an extended spoof of the ambush biography show This Is Your Life) and the mostly wordless segment “The Clock” work as well as they must have in the early Fifties.

In 2001, Sid Caesar appeared during the Television Critics Association press tour to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award. He was in his late 70s then, and looked frail as he waited his turn to take his tentative tiny steps to the podium. As soon as he started to talk, though, the showman in him shaved decades off his demeanor.

Instead of delivering the expected thank-you speech, Caesar launched into one of his patented nonsense-language riffs. The usually hard-to-please crowd of TCA TV critics howled with laughter, because we were not only familiar with, but weaned on, Caesar’s gift for gobbledygook. He finished doing his “speech,” in what sounded like almost passable German, to a loud ovation. Then he picked another language to skewer, and did it again. And again.

Then, after his real thank-you speech, Caesar received a standing ovation so long that he was able to negotiate his way down the steps from the stage and towards his front-row table – at which point, still relishing the spotlight, he mimed remembering one more thing, and worked his way back to the stage and the podium, just as slowly.

The laughter, and the applause, stayed with him all the way. It was a grand bit of live comedy, from a guy who first provided them more than 50 years earlier.

That same year, I interviewed Caesar about his guest appearance on ABC’s Whose Line Is It Anyway?, an ABC improv series appearance perfectly suited to Caesar’s comedy skills – and taped, as it turned out, on his 79th birthday. I asked if he had been nervous, taking the stage in front of a live studio audience after so many years away.

“The nervousness I have now,” he said, “is, ‘Will they remember me? Will they know who I am?’”

Caesar said he told Carey, before the taping began, “These kids don’t know me. Two generations now, they never heard of me. Maybe their fathers, probably their grandfathers.”

Caesar then picked up the story of what happened next.

“Then when I get out there,” he told me, both astonished and proud, “I walk out onstage and get a 15-minute standing ovation. Really – I was so shocked. It was so nice. I looked around and said, ‘Who came in?’

“That really got me.”

That story really got me, too. There aren’t many TV icons from the salad days of television that were as original as Sid Caesar, as influential, or as monumentally talented. He was smart enough to surround himself with the best, on stage and off, and push them all, and himself, to do things on television that had never been done before, and seldom have been done as well since.

Sid Caesar will be missed.

He will not, however, be replaced.




photo of Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca on Your Show of Shows. View in High-Res

    David Bianculli on Sid Caesar, a pioneer of sketch comedy:

    Sid Caesar, who died Wednesday at age 91, was the driving engine behind NBC’s original “Saturday night live’’ – a show that had as great an impact on popular culture as the current SNL…

    That series was Your Show of Shows, which ran on NBC from 1950-1954. It was broadcast in prime time, but other than that, everything about it sported the same template as Saturday Night Live, which would appear a TV generation later. Your Show of Shows, like the much later SNL, was 90 minutes long. It featured a guest host each week, and musical guests. And it was driven by a brilliant staff of performers and writers, the former led by Sid Caesar, with very able assistance from Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris.

    That wasn’t Caesar’s only TV showcase series from the early days of television. Your Show of Shows had grown out of Admiral Broadway Revue the year before, which had been simulcast by NBC and DuMont the year before. And after the talent on Your Show of Shows opted to divide and conquer, Caesar went on to Caesar’s Hour, maintaining some of the Your Show of Show writers, and adding others – including Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen, just to name two.

    And if you want to name the writers on Your Show of Shows, you can start with Caesar, Reiner, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon,  Danny Simon, Lucille Kallen, Max Liebman, and Mel Tolkin. Follow the resumes of all those writers, and you’ve got a legacy of 20th-century comedy every bit as impressive as that to spring from SNL or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

    I teach Your Show of Shows in my TV History & Appreciation classes at New Jersey’s Rowan University – and every term, the comedy brilliance and antic energy of This Is Your Story (an extended spoof of the ambush biography show This Is Your Life) and the mostly wordless segment “The Clock” work as well as they must have in the early Fifties.

    In 2001, Sid Caesar appeared during the Television Critics Association press tour to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award. He was in his late 70s then, and looked frail as he waited his turn to take his tentative tiny steps to the podium. As soon as he started to talk, though, the showman in him shaved decades off his demeanor.

    Instead of delivering the expected thank-you speech, Caesar launched into one of his patented nonsense-language riffs. The usually hard-to-please crowd of TCA TV critics howled with laughter, because we were not only familiar with, but weaned on, Caesar’s gift for gobbledygook. He finished doing his “speech,” in what sounded like almost passable German, to a loud ovation. Then he picked another language to skewer, and did it again. And again.

    Then, after his real thank-you speech, Caesar received a standing ovation so long that he was able to negotiate his way down the steps from the stage and towards his front-row table – at which point, still relishing the spotlight, he mimed remembering one more thing, and worked his way back to the stage and the podium, just as slowly.

    The laughter, and the applause, stayed with him all the way. It was a grand bit of live comedy, from a guy who first provided them more than 50 years earlier.

    That same year, I interviewed Caesar about his guest appearance on ABC’s Whose Line Is It Anyway?, an ABC improv series appearance perfectly suited to Caesar’s comedy skills – and taped, as it turned out, on his 79th birthday. I asked if he had been nervous, taking the stage in front of a live studio audience after so many years away.

    “The nervousness I have now,” he said, “is, ‘Will they remember me? Will they know who I am?’”

    Caesar said he told Carey, before the taping began, “These kids don’t know me. Two generations now, they never heard of me. Maybe their fathers, probably their grandfathers.”

    Caesar then picked up the story of what happened next.

    “Then when I get out there,” he told me, both astonished and proud, “I walk out onstage and get a 15-minute standing ovation. Really – I was so shocked. It was so nice. I looked around and said, ‘Who came in?’

    “That really got me.”

    That story really got me, too. There aren’t many TV icons from the salad days of television that were as original as Sid Caesar, as influential, or as monumentally talented. He was smart enough to surround himself with the best, on stage and off, and push them all, and himself, to do things on television that had never been done before, and seldom have been done as well since.

    Sid Caesar will be missed.

    He will not, however, be replaced.

    photo of Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca on Your Show of Shows.

  2. sid caesar

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