Saturday, March 7, 2009

Top TV Pilots of All-Time, #10

Just a few notes before I begin this countdown:

First, keep in mind that this is strictly about the pilot---not the series as a whole. In some instances, the ranked show ended up being far worse than the pilot, just as many shows (hello again, Joss Whedon!) end up being far better than their pilot.

Second, after some great deliberation on the matter, I have decided to include a small number of sitcom pilots on my list. It's not that I dislike sitcoms or consider them an inferior species of television, but sitcoms have a far more traditional narrative style...thus reducing the pilot, in most cases, to a simple "funny" or "not funny" judgment which isn't particularly interesting to talk about. There are some notable exceptions, however, and I have added them to my list where appropriate...with #10 being the first of them.

Finally, this list is only a reflection of shows I've actually seen with my own two eyes. I welcome your suggestions for omissions...if not so the list becomes more accurate, than so I can actually find some new shows for my DVD queue!

#10) Police Squad! (1982)

You've probably seen the Naked Gun movies with Leslie Nielson, but there's a good chance many of you haven't seen the show upon which those three films were based. Police Squad! only ran for six episodes on ABC back in 1982, but they are CLASSIC, and I don't throw that word around loosely. From the creators of Airplane! (even the exclamation points in these titles make me smile), Police Squad! served up a similar style of clever sight gags and non sequiturs, all the while doing a hilarious spoof of the heavy-handed Quinn Martin productions of the early 70s.

With the constant stream of Scary Movie-type crap that invades theatres every year, it's easy to forget that the "spoof" was once well done. If you want to be reminded of what that sort of comedy should look like, just check out the first 10 minutes of the Police Squad! pilot below. It's 27 years old, but every joke still works to perfection. The credits alone are worth about five solid laughs---right through to the pronouncement of the show being "In Color!" and the announcer misidentifying which episode was airing...a running gag which never got tiresome.

Another running gag which is just as hilarious in print as it is on film, is the "special guest star" mentioned in the credits. From Wikipedia:

During the opening credits of each episode, a well-known actor is introduced as a "special guest star", but then meets a grisly death during the introduction, thus completing their appearance on the show. Stars (along with their fates) included:
  1. Lorne Greene (stabbed and thrown from a speeding car)
  2. Georg Stanford Brown (crushed by a falling safe)
  3. Robert Goulet (executed by firing squad)
  4. William Shatner (dodges a salvo of bullets but drinks poisoned wine)
  5. Florence Henderson (gunned down while singing in a kitchen)
  6. William Conrad (stabbed and thrown from a speeding car)
The show Sledge Hammer (1986-1988) was an amiable attempt at recreating a similar sitcom, but nothing has come close either before or after Police Squad! to capturing the joke-a-second genius they mastered. Enjoy...and then thank me.


Blogger JMW said...

"One more visit . . . just for tightening."

Man, that clip is full of funny stuff. Too bad the show didn't last.

March 8, 2009 at 2:04 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

Oh, and I might take issue with your point about sitcoms. You're right that it's more a matter of funny or not funny, but that can be very difficult when you don't know the characters or the situation well yet. Police Squad! is an exception because it's so absurd. But I think lots of sitcoms that proved to be pretty great were probably clunky and not super-funny right out of the gate.

March 8, 2009 at 2:05 PM  
Blogger Kraig Smith said...

Good point about the sitcoms. I think it's safe to say that the ones I've chosen basically will adhere to two principals...they're funny, and they're a different take on the traditional sitcom format. I'm looking forward to your thumbs up and thumbs down on the ultimate choices.

March 10, 2009 at 11:32 PM  

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