Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Day one hundred and twenty-nine ... Reality check.

I watched a lot of TV as a kid.

I watched probably more than I should have, though I'd be willing to bet that kids today watch even more than I ever could have if I tried.

Back in the seventies, we had to watch it at home on bulky, heavy, noisy, televisions with a clumsy antennae, and a precious brown or black IV providing the lifeblood from the wall socket. We couldn't bring our shows around with us in our pockets. Not even the Jetsons could do that.

But, as a child of the seventies, there was a certain responsibility to keep up with one's shows. I mean, it was a golden time for sit-coms. Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, M.A.S.H., Barney Miller, The Love Boat, The Jeffersons ...

... and Three's Company.

Oh boy, what a concept. A straight guy posing as a gay guy so he can split the rent with two girls in an apartment that was owned by an older uptight married couple who, if they found out the gay guy was straight, would raise holy hell and kick him out--kick them all out, probably.

It was groundbreaking television in a golden age of sit-coms. And a show that had any desire to last longer than a 30 minute pilot had to have memorable characters.

Jack, Janet, and Chrissy. Classic, American, television icons.

I liked Chrissy more than Janet because I kind of felt bad for her. I knew she was smarter than they made her out to be. She had been unfortunately cast in a stereotype (whatever that meant to a 7 year old) and ended up looking aloof and incompetent.

Your classic, dumb, blonde.

I wasn't aware, back in the mid to late seventies, that I was sitting too close and watching shows which would one day become legendary in the pantheon of TV. I had a sense that prime time was something special seeing that many of the people I saw from 8-10pm would follow me to school--in the form of a lunchbox, that is.

But not everyone made it out with a name.

I remember Norman Fell, who played Mr. Roper. I remember his name mostly because his was one of the few names I knew that was also a sentence. Mrs. Roper's real name was, and is, inconsequential. Poor Mr. Roper, he had a tough life getting yelled at all day and night by his battle-axe wife. I always thought they were mismatched.

Mr. Furley, who replaced The Ropers, was, of course, the inimitable Don Knotts. Nobody's going to forget him.

John Ritter was just everywhere back then. His name was easy to remember, although I often called him Jack Tripper when referring to his real name and vice versa.

Janet, I can't remember, and won't take the easy way out and Google her. She has already proved my point.

But Christmas "Chrissy" Snow, The queen of the ditz, the blondest of the blondes, now she was memorable. Suzanne Somers name was easy for me. Summer was my favorite time of year, and "Oh Suzanna" was, and still is, a great song.

I remember when Chrissy was written off in 1980. Her "cousin", Cindy, filled in for a couple of years. In 1982, Teri, a nurse, moved in, permanently filling the spot until the end of the show's run in 1984. Teri was palpable, and incidentally written to have been born in Longmeadow, MA, but she was no Chrissy Snow. She was no Suzanne Somers. And I dare any of you to remember Teri's real name off the top of your heads.

No cheating. Okay, pencils down ... like I suspected, nothin'.

Suzanne Somers stayed in the spotlight by making it follow her. She never stopped once. She may have dropped off the movie making circuit, unlike the late John Ritter, but she has remained firmly planted in the American collective conscious. I mean, America is famous for a lot of influential and popular inventions: the telephone, the phonograph, the Lava Lamp, the electric guitar ...

... and the ThighMaster.

From the "As Seen on TV" website: "To tighten and strengthen your inner thighs and hips simply place ThighMaster gold between your legs and squeeze."

Millions upon millions of these incongruously shaped products have ended up in the possesion of us easily persuaded Americans, whether it be in the rec room, the basement, or Monday morning after a tag sale on the front lawn next to a sign that says, "free."

But the ThighMaster wouldn't be as popular a product if it weren't for the face behind the name: Suzanne Somers.

So when I asked the production assistant at the Ellen Degeneres show (where I was performing with the Young at Heart Chorus) who was the featured guest on the show they were taping, and she said, Suzanne Somers, my heart skipped a beat.

I knew I needed to meet her, I knew I needed a photo, and I knew some folks who would just love to hear all about it.

She had come on to shill her newest product, the FaceMaster It is a device that looks a bit like an electric toothbrush. You plug it in, attach the special pads to the end, touch it all over your face, and presto, your wrinkles will disspear. It uses what it calls "Collagen Enhancing Serum."

Um ... no comment.

The important thing was, she was there: Suzanne-Chrissy Snow-Somers.

I busied myself lingering about in the hallways of the Ellen Show, which are lined with giant photos of Ellen with past guests. Prince, Paul McCartney, Oprah, DeNiro, Nicholson, Trump, Richard Simmons, and the list goes on. We don't get Ellen where I live, and I don't think I'd really be up for watching her if we did, but I had no idea she was so huge.

I was asked to not block the hallway, very nicely, from a security guard. This, I took as if I were being told that the tag sale I'm standing at isn't open for another fifteen minutes--politely, and positively, but not fully. My eyes were on the prize.

I turned down one hallway and saw the giant rack of shopping bags. Johnny Choo, Prada, Gucci, Betsy Johnson, and more, all stacked on top of each other precariously against the wall. This was Suzanne's, no doubt. She had made a day of it.

I went back to the green room and watched Suzanne and Ellen on the monitor. They were pleasant enough to each other. Ellen didn't give Suzanne too much trouble about her new "beauty" products, but she did make a few offhand comments about the "ButtMaster" as you could expect.

Cue the applause, and the sound of the door at the end of the hall opening up, providing a strange mix from the monitor in the green room on my left, and the same sound of clapping coming from the source on my right, 100 feet away.

Then she appeared: Chrissy. Suzanne. And she walked right towards me, flanked by two personal assistants, with her orange-tanned face tight like a over-inflated dodge-ball. To quote my friend, Steve Sanderson, from an interview in the Valley Advocate: "(she) ... looks like somebody jammed hooks on each side of her face, put a boot behind her head and started pulling ... "

Well put, Steve.

But I'm electric. I have my camera in one hand. She walks quickly towards the green room where the band, all dressed in black, are milling about, and says ...

"... These must be the musicians ..."

I press the power button on my camera. The lens opens quickly and I say:

"Ms. Somers ... could I get a photo with you ...?"

"Sure ... why not?"

I look down and the screen on my camera is displaying the date in giant, revolving, purple letters. What the hell? I had just purchased the camera for this trip and have used it probably 100 times and this has never happened ... oh, my god.

I look to my right. Jeff is there. Thank god.

Jeff Derose is our photographer and incidentally, Diane's, our production manager's, husband

I correctly guess that his camera is presently working.

"Jeff! ... Jeff! ... can you please take our picture?"

And he hoists a giant black camera to his eye.

I, in turn, put my arm around the person I watched every week on TV from 1977-1980 ... the person who introduced America to an iconic workout machine ... the person who embodied and promoted the idea of the ditzy blonde ...

The person that just made my day.

Thank you Suzanne for taking the time to smile for the camera.

And thank you all for reading a self-indulgent chapter which I just couldn't keep to myself.

This post is dedicated to the following:

John Ritter (9.17.48-9.11.03)

Norman Fell (03.24.24-12.14.98)

Audra Marie Lindley--Mrs. Roper (9.24.18-10.16.97)

And, of course, Don Knotts (7.21.24-2.24.06)

Without whom, many laughs would have never come from these lungs.

Thank you.

PS: Teri was played by Pricilla Barnes.

And no, I couldn't leave out Joyce DeWitt who played Janet.

Fearless by Default is filmed in front of a live studio audience.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to imagine now that Three's Company and Soap were groundbreaking television. Even later, when Will and Grace was on, it was quite controversial for the Conservative Right.
Although I often criticize television for many programs (but certainly not all), the fact is that Hollywood and the industry often braves a way into controversial issues and moves discussions about race, gender and other topics onto the front pages.
They may be doing it for commercial value (if we talk about it, we watch the show, and then advertising dollars increase) or they may do it for the right reasons (opening a national debate).
But I suppose with the decline of television, and the rise of the Internet Entertainment (and its narrow audience focus), the days of the nation watching a weekly series and then talking about it the next day is almost over.
Take care