In watching episodes of The Bob Newhart Show, The Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, it initially seemed that these were certainly shows of another era – one that I personally tend to generalize as an era looking for laughs through corny and sexist jokes and repetitive conservative situations. At a very quick glance I saw these characteristics in the these shows, however after thinking about the episodes just a little bit more critically, I was actually surprised by some of the similarities between series of this era and what is currently on television today.
Surprisingly (to me at least) few episodes of these series rely on physical humor. Instead laughs are received from quick and witty dialogue. I suppose I found this surprising because some of the premises seem perfect for slapstick physical humor. I am somewhat shocked that a show about four elderly women living together does not seek laughs from the aches and pains of being old, but rather from snide remarks coming from characters that sometimes seem to have the minds of sharp 30 year olds. The same can be said of other characters in other series. For example, the awkward neighbor on The Bob Newhart Show is not awkward because of his stature or physical mannerisms, but rather because of his somewhat child-like thoughts and comments. This focus on dialogue rather than physical comedy seems to be something that modern viewers often look for in television.
As well, the modern viewer could still consider most of the jokes that were made funny by today’s standards. Yes, the laugh track is becoming dated and seems to have a “dumb-ing” quality about it, but take that away and have the actors deliver their lines in maybe a more dry or snippy tone, and many scenes might resembles scenes on television right now.
I was also struck by the appearance of most characters. Though there is always at least one very beautiful or handsome character, it seems that most aren’t too far above the average person. The Golden Girls is obviously not trying to draw in an audience through the looks of its actors, and Bob Newhart certainly isn’t too far above the average looking male. Though I do think that good looking actors will never go out of style, it does seem that today’s audiences are becoming increasingly obsessed with the grotesque. Shows that feature ugly-ish or even average leads seem to be viewed as unique and perhaps more cutting-edge, though they are becoming increasingly prevalent. I personally think a show about four sarcastic elderly women would have done quite well today.