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PBS Toasts ‘pioneers of television’

 By Rob Hedelt, The Free Lance-Star

The “Chuckles the Clown” moments still kill today, some 40 years later.

 Segments from the episode about the death of a popular clown from the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” remind viewers of the brilliance of the ’70s sitcom.

  While others on the news staff that was the focus of the show can’t help but find jokes in Chuckles’ demise—he’s unshelled by an elephant after dressing as a peanut for a parade—America’s sweetheart Mary Richards cries most of the day away.

 Then she ends up at the funeral, where the requirement of propriety makes her do the most outrageous thing possible—laugh out loud.

The minister performing the service references Chuckles’ performance: “a little song, a little dance, 

a little seltzer down his pants.”

Richards erupts in fits of laughter.

  It’s one of the many iconic television moments you can relive in the four upcoming episodes of the rewarding PBS series “Pioneers of Television.”

  Season three of this series,  which relies on television clips and interviews with key stars and producers, gets a strong start Tuesday night with the best episode of the new year. 

“Funny Ladies” shows how the talented Lucille Ball and her success with several sitcoms opened doors for women who followed: Carol Burnett, Moore, Betty White,  Cloris Leachman, Joan Rivers and Marla Gibbs. 

 No, the show doesn’t cover all of the women who followed in the footsteps of Ball, who eventually divorced her husband and became a solo powerhouse in Hollywood and on television. 

 The show has a pattern. It begin with famous clips, cuts to interviews with the stars involved in them and then turns to noteworthy women of today to put the groundbreaking performances and successes in perspective.

  It’s interesting to hear one of the key women in comedy today, Tina Fey, talking about how critical it was to see programs like “The Carol Burnett Show” growing up.

 They helped define her own sense of humor and showed her that women could do it all.

  Fans of Burnett’s  show will love seeing regulars Tim Conway and Harvey Korman crack up in one episode after another.

  It’s interesting to learn that Burnett used a simple trick to keep from losing it herself. She chewed her nails to forestall the giggles.

  It’s also fun to hear Joan Rivers talk about the days when she couldn’t go on television pregnant, and to hear Moore talk about how much she was pressured by feminists to be the poster girl for their cause, something she didn’t want to do.

  The second-best show arrives  Jan. 22. It examines  a television phenomenon punctuated with questions like “Who Shot J.R.?”

  It’s a look at “Primetime Soaps” like “Dallas” and “Dynasty,” which kicked off the nighttime soap frenzy in the late 1970s, and “Knot’s Landing,” which ran until 1993. 

  It’s entertaining to look back at the good and bad Ewings, Bobby and J.R., in their white and black hats. The women, Sue Ellen, Pam and so many others, are there in their full glory—fancy gowns, shoulder pads and teased up hair.

  The interviews, which thankfully include the late Larry Hagman, do a good job of exploring what it was that struck a chord with viewers, drawing more viewers for critical episodes of “Dallas” than Super Bowls or any other show on television.

 Tune in to see Joan Collins and Linda Evans of “Dynasty” punching each other in that fountain one more time.

  The last two episodes of “Pioneers of Television” follow in subsequent weeks.

On Jan. 29, 2013, the show on “Superheroes” covers many eras: “Superman” in the 1950s, “Batman” in the ’60s, “Wonder Woman” and “The Incredible Hulk” in the ’70s and “The Greatest American Hero” in the ’80s.

  A week later, on Feb. 5, the episode on “Miniseries” will focus the impact and the stars  of three very successful ones: “Roots,” “Rich Man, Poor Man” and the most-watched romance, “The Thorn Birds.”

 They’re all interesting walks down memory lane for television lovers.

Rob Hedelt:  540/374-5415


What: “Pioneers of Television”

When: Tuesdays at 8 p.m.

Where: PBS