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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

PBS' 'Pioneers of Television:' April 15 Fourth Season Premiere Terrific Tax Day Treat

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PBS scheduling the fourth season premiere of the uber-awesome documentary series "Pioneers of Television" for April 15, 2014 is a great (albeit most likely inadvertent) response to the folks on Capitol Hill who oppose federal funding for public television. Imaging a better cure for Tax Day-related increased aggravation regarding the billions of tax dollars that are wasted every year is difficult.

Each episode of this hour-long series discusses a different television genre or related theme; the format for this (mostly) nostalgic journey to TV Land is interviews with the greats who brought us these special shows interspersed with clips that remind us of what makes them so memorable.

It is especially nice that the familiar stories and clips are wonderful reminders of pre-reality television and the previously unknown ones are like finding one more chocolate egg or jelly bean in the plastic grass at the bottom of an Easter basket.

Prior topics include superheros, funny ladies of television, variety shows, game shows, miniseries, and prime-time soaps. The fourth season premiere titled "Standup to Sitcom" harkens back to the very first "Pioneers" episode "Sitcoms" by discussing the career paths of comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld and Tim Allen. Having true comedy pioneer Bob Newhart offer his thoughts on this topic and including clips from his two hit sitcoms are other highlights.

This hour additionally has extended segments on Ray Romano and Roseanne Barr. Very vintage footage of Romano is hilarious, and seeing Barr step out of character to act like someone with whom I would enjoy sharing a meal is a nice surprise. It further is fun hearing Barr discuss conflicts related to her actually living a blue-collar life and the Ivy League graduates on her production team trying to make the show reflect their impression of that lifestyle.

For his part, Romano provides fairly deep insight into the parallels between his own life and that of Ray Barone on "Everybody Loves Raymond." Hearing him discuss the impetus for making Barone's parents such a focus of the series is akin to a different modern series in which "Happy Days" creator Garry Marshall shares the story of adding Fonzie to the cast of that show.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the Seinfeld segment provides a good sense of the origins of both his sitcom and the sitcom-within-a-sitcom storyline from that series. This clip further ends with arguably the best quote from the entire "Standup" episode.



The other topics for the fourth season of "Pioneers" are the self-explanatory "Doctors and Nurses," "Acting Funny" that has stars ranging from Robin Williams to Cloris Leachman discussing how they practice their craft, and "Breaking Barriers" that has stars from various ethnic backgrounds discuss their careers and best-known characters.

One can only hope that the always entertaining Lucie Arnaz contributes to the "Barriers" segment on her father, who is the creator of the modern sitcom style.

It is a safe bet that the fourth season campfire tales of these pioneers will be as interesting as the ones from the first three seasons.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Pioneers" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.