“…when this girl meets world”

“You coming with us Mr. Feeny? You gonna sneak up on us in Central Park or something?”

“No, I shall remain here.”

“No, you’ll always be with us…as long as we live, okay.”

{A pause after Cory is the last to leave the classroom}

“I love you all…class dismissed.”

This was the emotional ending to the seven year run of one of America’s favorite shows: “Boy Meets World.” The year was 2000 and fans of the series were now expected to venture into the new century and our own ‘brave new world’ without the wisdom and guidance of the incomparable Mr. Feeny. This was not only the series finale, but also the tearful goodbye of nineties sitcoms geared towards the family and its teenage sons and daughters.

Of course top-shelf shows like “Friends,” “Frasier,” “Will & Grace” (NBC sure was King back then) and others continued well into the early years of the 21st century, but Cory Matthews’ classroom exit symbolized the end of TGIF.

There is no longer the evening block for families to gather with pizza and soda to laugh together at Urkel destroying the Winslow’s roof or witnessing Cory and Shawn turn Mr. Feeny’s home into a profitable B & B or Larry and Balki baking desserts while singing the “Bibbi-Babka Ditty.”

After the casts of the NBC greats mentioned above took their final bows, that also seemed to mark something of significance in television. These sitcoms starred grown-ups, with actors and actresses in their thirties (at least). The stories were filled with humor and heart. Important lessons were taught and learned and at the same time the viewers could relate to the characters’ very problems and conflicts. The only discernible difference was the setting and exact circumstance.

One happy and distinct consequence of their “mature age,” as measured by Hollywood, was how they were able to say things that may have been considered “risky” by a younger cast.

Timing and writing is pivotal in sitcoms and even when outrageous things are said on one of these shows, it’s done with a certain amount of creativity and well…comedic grace:

The borders of appropriate innuendo was constantly tested and was hilarious every time by the sitcoms alluded to above. “Boy Meets World” and its TGIF family were also excellent at keeping the necessary phrases and key words ‘in the shadows’ for their particular brand. There are certain words that shouldn’t be said on television and the great shows steer clear of these, but test the limits on everything else.

You can peek over the fence and get as close as you can get without leaping over. This was the template of yesteryear, plus a few now obviously.

“The Big Bang Theory,” it needs to be noted, is currently playing the role of one of the shows featured in the old NBC all-star sitcom lineup…though on CBS. The writing and acting is incredible and has been proven lately with its dramatic ratings spike and the cast and crew’s flash mob (Go to “Amazing” section for full video). “How I Met Your Mother” and “Two and a Half Men” do so too, but in recent episodes have been reaching too much and too often for ‘crude’ laughs. Earlier seasons of “Two and a Half Men” distinguishes itself as a much different show than today.

The comedic rule, as attempted by George Costanza on “Seinfeld,” of always leaving on a high note with your audience wanting more, was fully enforced on these sitcoms. Go 90%, but never go the full hundred. Each shows’ writing and its actors’ comedic timing was simply outstanding. ‘Must-See TV’ indeed.

Today, taboo subjects and inappropriate words for prime-time are barely cloaked and are often fully exposed in ways that question whether what’s being said is actually being said on network television in the 8:30/9:00 p.m. time slot?

(Do consider though that we live in an era where networks deem it right to air Cialis commercials during the national news broadcasts in the 6:30 p.m. half hour, so…)

An example from a show could be given, but it’s safe to say we all can rehearse one of these scenes or punchlines.

Understanding that one part of comedy is about pushing the envelope, a little bit here and there is to be expected and is usually funny. However, constantly talking in a manner more suited for HBO or Starz may be throwing too much chum in the water for that great white laugh. Slightly inappropriate one-liners with innuendo is paramount in delivering great comebacks or punchlines on sitcoms. All too often though, there is no filter or attempt to disguise potentially offensive language for today’s prime-time television viewers.

One of the major differences between shows from the nineties and shows today is the over-reliance on shocking one-liners for quick and immediate laughs. Studios’ lack of patience in allowing stories and character’s on these shows to develop is partly to blame for this phenomenon. And yet while this may suit the ratings for a couple or a few weeks, the reaction is a lack of character depth.

All great sitcoms have great characters and clever, witty writing. One equivalence of offensive language during prime-time viewing is listening to a stand-up comedian spout off profanity just because he or she has the human capacity to do so.

The legendary George Carlin did this, however, he did so with specific purpose and identity. As Carlin would say about how certain people perceive things, “difference, (there’s a) difference.” On morning shows, late night or appearances in public outside the theater stage, he spoke according to the setting. One of the kings of profanity always knew his boundaries and his audience.

“Real Housewives” and other shows featuring millionaires ‘living’ their lives is one of the epicenters for this excessive language (bleep). There are also a couple sitcoms that lately have been going too far and explicitly saying things undoubtedly questionable for its time slot. These are great shows and ones I watch every week, but they’ve been going the full hundred just a few too many times.

The point being made is that good scripts and acting allows potentially controversial things to be discussed and laughed at by its audience. Below are three examples of how to cleverly maneuver around somewhat delicate subject matters by registering around the 80-90% mark:

“Friends” Take a Nap

Niles Like You’ve Never Seen Him Before

One of the most famous “Seinfeld” episodes is when Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer all make a bet to see who can…well, here:

Innuendo was clearly the winner of that bet.

These are examples of terrific writing that dances on the edge with implications rather than outright disclosure. Providing the audience with the opportunity to use their imagination when it comes to particular situations is essential.

If more proof is needed about the brilliance of sitcoms that started in the ’90s, look no further than the frequency of the reruns of these shows that are on nearly everyday and current promotions for their respective DVD sets, more than a decade after wrapping. The love and appreciation for these characters is real and ever-lasting.

They’re members of the gold standard of television.

Some may laugh and roll their eyes at us who constantly and nostalgically quote memorable lines and favorite moments from shows that originated during the ’90s. If you look around and watch what is dominating some of our evenings, maybe now there is more understanding in our desire for a cultural repeat.

This is an excerpt from a note written by Danielle Fishel (Topanga) on her Tumblr account recently confirming the rumors of a “Boy Meets World” reboot. Generation Y, this is for you:

“Those years were among the most warm, hilarious, insightful, educational years of my life and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.  Another thing I wouldn’t trade for anything is the integrity and the heart with which BMW was made.  I promise with the entirety of my heart that we will make GMW with the same honesty, innocence, and intelligence that you learned to expect from BMW.”

“Girl Meets World:” The Legend Continues.


Posted on November 28, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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