My friend had a question for me last night. Why have I been maintaining such a furious posting schedule for this blog lately? Short (tempered) answer: I'm quitting smoking. However, since I am going to continue to write and drink, I find it somehow comforting to take refuge in those pursuits whilst trying to extricate myself from the former one. So...brainstorm...why not offer the blog-reading world a post on drinking habits as they have been portrayed in classic sitcoms? It works for me. Yeah, true, having a cigarette right now would work even better, but I'm not gonna give into the urge. Nope...not yet anyway. And so...
Looking back on classic sitcoms, there seems to have been a real paradigm shift, as far as drinking is concerned, around the time that Jerry Mathers started to like girls on Leave It To Beaver.
That was about 1963, the last year the series ran on TV, and with its demise and that of the "wholesome 1950s values" it attempted to portray, there seemed to arise in TV Land an entirely different attitude toward the way in which the imbibing of alcohol was depicted on the small blue screen. Take The Dick Van Dyke Show, for instance, that savvy treasure trove of early 1960s pop culture and show biz references created by Carl Reiner, which ran for five stellar seasons on NBC, starting in 1963, the same year that Leave It To Beaver ended.
It's a pretty well-known fact that Reiner based TDVDS on his own life as a television comedy writer living with his wife and son (Rob Reiner, who would, of course, go on to play "Mike/Meathead Stivic" on All In The Family) in New Rochelle, New York. I, personally, can't even drive through New York and see a sign for New Rochelle without wishing that I could somehow make one of those "Twilight Zone" turns on the road and find myself back in Reiner's New Rochelle, the one that apparently existed in the early 60s if you were a TV comedy writer married to a beautiful former USO dancer who traipsed around the house in capris and met you at the door every night with a cocktail and the promise of dinner. Face it, Rob and Laura Petrie (played by Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore) were always drinking.
If it wasn't after work cocktails, it was drinks and dinner in the city, or wine in some little Italian restaurant. There was no shame or justification involved. It was the early 1960s, for God's sake. The same early 1960s that the brilliant AMC drama Mad Men portrays so well. Interestingly, years after the series ended, Van Dyke and Moore both sought treatment for alcoholism. Van Dyke even starred in the Emmy-winning TV movie, The Morning After, about an alcoholic struggling with his disease. But that has nothing to do with Rob and Laura, who I like to imagine as now living in a retirement village somewhere in Florida, sipping cocktails with the equally elderly Buddy and Sally as they decide which local restaurant to hit for that night's "early bird special."
Around the same time that the Petries were enjoying their 5 o'clock cocktails in New Rochelle, Darrin and Samantha Stevens (played by Dick York and Elizabeth Montgomery, respectively) were tossing back their share of highballs on Bewitched, which ran on ABC from 1964 to 1972. Not too surprisingly, the Stevenses (is that how you write it?) lived in Westport, Connecticut, next state over from New York, so, conceivably, they could have met the Petries for drinks some night (perhaps via Samantha's broom). But, like the Petries, the Stevenses (damn it, that's how I'm going to write it) seemed to do most of their drinking at home, although I never saw them go out to dinner without ordering drinks as well. In another, unavoidable reference to Mad Men, it should be noted that Darrin Stevens made his living as an advertising executive, and that his boss, Larry Tate (David White) was every bit as big a drinker as Roger "Ulcer Boy" Sterling. So, in a sense, Darrin and Larry could be considered the prototypes for the mad men on Mad Men. But back to drinking...
Despite all of the imbibing of spirits that went on in the Petrie and Stevens households, there were some 1960s sitcom households where drinking never seemed to be a factor at all. Most notably the Carol and Mike Brady household. I defy anyone to scrounge up even one episode in which either Carol or Mike tossed back a drink inside that split level home that architect Mike supposedly designed all on his own. Not even in the two part episode on which the entire Brady clan took a trip to Hawaii. That's understandable, of course, since the show was aimed primarily at a youthful audience who presumably looked at the Brady kids as role models. Hell, the one time when Greg Brady (Barry Williams) took a brief sabbatical from being good to smoke a covert cigarette, Mr. Brady went ballistic on him. It didn't matter that, in real life, Williams had a thing for Florence Henderson, who played Carol, or that, by the end of the show, Maureen McCormick (Marcia) had begun making the rounds of Hollywood parties and was experimenting with cocaine use. Drinking and smoking were just not done on The Brady Bunch. You have to skip on over to another ABC sitcom, The Love Boat, to see a member of the Brady family with a drink in hand. Turns out it's Maureen McCormick, who appeared on a Love Boat episode in the second season of the show. She wasn't playing Marcia, of course, but after so many years playing that role, it's hard to see her in anything without thinking of Marcia Brady.
Returning to more adult-oriented sitcoms, there was no dearth of drinking on one of my favorite shows of the 1970s: The Bob Newhart Show. Like Rob Petrie and Darrin Stevens, Dr. Bob Hartley was a professional man, a psychologist, for whom drinking was a regular, unexceptional occurrence.
Not only did the Hartleys drink on a regular basis, but on Rhoda, another sitcom from the same era which starred Valerie Harper, a transplant from The Mary Tyler Moore Show (where there was also a whole lotta drinkin' goin' on) , Rhoda's doorman, Eliot Carleton (voiced by Lorenzo Music, who also provided the voice for Garfield the Cat in the cartoon series) was always drunk. Carleton's signature greeting, "This is Carleton, your doorman",was a running joke on the show, and the fact that Carleton always slurred the words when saying it was part of the joke. These days, the other characters on the show would probably be planning an intervention. A funny intervention. Good luck with that.
But when it came to 1970s sitcom drinking, the girls on Laverne and Shirley were the queens. While Laverne (Penny Marshall) and Shirley (Cindy Williams) weren't what you'd call hardcore drinkers, they spent most of their day working the assembly line at the fictitious Milwaukee "Shotz Brewery", and when home, had no compulsion about seeking liquid courage from shots of cooking sherry. Laverne's favorite drink might have been milk and Pepsi (yuk), but she and roommate Shirley existed in a working class world where there was no shame attached to drinking, even if the drink of choice for most of the characters was almost always a bottle of domestic beer.
Of course, for those who eschew domestic spirits, there was always M*A*S*H*, the long running 70s series on which Hawkeye Pierce and the rest of the medical staff somehow managed to save lives and maintain regular drinking habits whilst serving on the Korean war front. In fact, the only characters who didn't drink on the show were the injured and dying...and possibly Radar, who I can't ever recall seeing with a drink in his hand. Probably because he was too busy holding on to that teddy bear. Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) even had a still in his room, for God's sake. Now, that's a commitment to drinking.
It goes without saying that this post wouldn't be complete if I didn't give at least a brief nod to the king of drinking sitcoms: Cheers. The series, which ran on NBC from 1982 to 1993, not only took place against the backdrop of a Boston bar "where everybody knows your name", it spawned a legion of real life "Cheers" bars. And yet, despite all the drinking that went on in every episode, the show never really drew on actual drinking for its laughs. If anything, the show seemed to mark a definite shift in the way that drinking is portrayed on sitcoms. The fact that the owner of Cheers, Sam Malone (Ted Danson) was a recovering alcoholic was an important element of the show, and very much in keeping with the country's less accepting attitude toward wholesale drinking as a form of recreation. Even on Frasier, the show's successful and equally long-running spin-off starring Cheers alum, Kelsey Grammer, most of the drinking was limited to the imbibing of fine wines, an occasional Scotch and soda, and Martin Crane's beer. The characters on Fraiser met not in a friendly Seattle watering hole but in a coffee bar, where they bared their souls over lattes and cups of espresso.
Nope. Drinking isn't what it used to be on TV sitcoms. But, then, what is? Even in real life?
If you're looking for a blog with meaningful content on the important issues of the day, you've come to the wrong place. This is the shallows, my friend. Nothing but shallowness as far as the eye can see. Let someone else make sense of things. I like it here.
- I love my grown children, miss all the dogs I ever had, and I cry at the drop of a hat, I believe in true love, destiny, fairness, and compassion. If I could be anywhere right now, it would be the ocean. My favorite city is New York, but I am always longing for London and craving more time in Copenhagen. I'm drawn to desolate places, deserted buildings, and unknown byways. I don't care how society perceives me as long as my gut tells me that what I'm doing is right. I am interested in paranormal things, spiritual things, historical things, and things that glow at night. I like to drink, I smoke when I write, I can't stand small talk, and despite my quick temper, I would rather kiss than fight. I'm selfish with my writing time, a spendthrift with my love. My heart has been broken so many times that it's held together with super glue and duct tape. The upside is that, next time, I won't be tempted to give away what I no longer have to give. But I will let you buy me a Pink Squirrel.
IN A WORLD FILLED WITH COMPLEX POLITICAL ISSUES, SOCIAL INEQUALITY, AND FINANCIAL UNCERTAINTY, I CONSIDER IT MY GIFT TO YOU, MY READER, TO OFFER THIS SHALLOW LITTLE HAVEN, WHERE NOTHING IS TOO SHALLOW, TOO INSIGNIFICANT, OR TOO RIDICULOUS TO JUSTIFY OUR ATTENTION. IN OTHER WORDS, IF IT'S NOT IMPORTANT....SO WHAT? NEITHER WAS MARILYN MONROE'S BRA SIZE. AND THAT STILL SELLS MAGAZINES, DOESN'T IT?