CBS celebrates three of its most beloved shows this week with the All in the Family 20th Anniversary Special, The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show, and Mary Tyler Moore: The 20th Anniversary Show. The productions arrive in the wake of the high ratings attracted by the special celebrating the 200th episode of NBC’s Cheers last November.
Each of these CBS series was valuable in a different way. All in the Family (1971-79) was an anti-bigotry campaign disguised as a sitcom. With creator Norman Lear as host, the salute will feature stars Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, and Sally Struthers sitting around the agreeably dingy old Bunker living room introducing memorable scenes. These will include heated conservative-versus-liberal debates between O’Connor’s Archie Bunker and Reiner’s ”Meathead,” and fascinating interviews with Americans asked what they remember about the show. (One man declares, ”I believe that the comments of Meathead gave aid and comfort to the enemy in North Vietnam.”)
The Ed Sullivan Show (1948-71) was not merely, as executive producer Andrew Solt’s excellent special reminds us, the place where Italian mouse puppet Topo Gigio and the Beatles met on common pop-cultural ground, where the Doors could sing ”Come on, baby, light my fire” one minute and Alan King could rant about his mother-in-law the next. It was also a haven for people who could tuck their feet behind their ears or spin dinner plates on the points of tall sticks (Sullivan understood novelty acts as well as he did big stars). The show was, of course, the inspiration for Sullivan impersonators, many of whom are shown here; my vote for the Funniest Ed goes to John Byner. The Sullivan special’s host is Carol Burnett, who is also seen in black-and-white footage doing an extremely funny stand-up routine on a late-’50s Sullivan episode.
How wickedly appropriate that CBS is airing the Mary Tyler Moore Show salute right after Murphy Brown: Ol’ MTM herself has said she thinks Candice Bergen’s show owes no small debt to the great sitcom about Mary Richards and the WJM-TV news staff. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77) was perhaps the most artfully written and acted sitcom in history, and Moore is host of this special. Except for Ted Knight, who died in 1986, all of the costars are scheduled to appear and reminisce; clips will include our Mary’s first meeting with Ed Asner’s Lou Grant (”You have spunk. I hate spunk!”) and the infamous funeral of Chuckles the Clown (the beloved kid-show host who, you may recall, dressed up as a peanut one day and was squeezed to death by a hungry elephant). In this case, the cliché is true: You’ll laugh, you’ll cry.