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"I Hate Spunk!"

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Ethan Hawke
Doane Gregory

When the news was proclaimed from on high recently that Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper are planning a sitcom resurrecting their deified Mary and Rhoda characters, television fans genuflected before the pair’s Second Coming. “Oh my God, this is classic TV nirvana,” says Tom Hill, creative director at Nickelodeon and editor of “Nick at Nite?s Classic TV Companion.” “In twenty years we?ll run a ‘Mary,’ then a ‘Rhoda,’ then a ‘Mary and Rhoda.'” Hold on. Before the network starts clearing its schedule for more spunk from Mary and Rhoda, allow me to submit three words: “Archie Bunker’s Place.”

True, supporting characters like George Jefferson, Frasier Crane and even Rhoda have had great success with spin-offs. But when leading actors try to return to the well, they often come up dry. For instance, is anyone really wondering when “The Brady Brides” and Redd Foxx’s 1980 childless season on “Sanford” are going into syndication?

Nostalgia can only support a character so long. For the same reason that long-running shows try to go off the air before becoming poor imitations of themselves (Are you listening, “Mad About You”?), resuscitating a mythic series only invites comparisons to past glory days that the update episodes can never match. That’s why returning actors like Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart and Tony Danza wisely change settings and the names of their characters to take some of the pressure off a new series.

Our advice? Mary and Rhoda should take a lesson from Columbo, Jim Rockford and the Ewing clan, and reunite only for TV movies. It’s just like the rules of a houseguest: Show up once a year, and people are thrilled to see you. But come back every week, scattering the bad-joke equivalent of fingernail clippings on the couch, and don’t be surprised if love is not all around you.

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