So I arrive home to a package waiting on my doorstep the content of which was Mr. Belvedere Season 4 (that shit lasted four seasons?!?), Ironside Season 3 (yuk), and Room 222 season 2. Hallelujah!
I haven't seen Room 222 since I was in what they used to call Junior High School but I loved the show. Does it hold up in modern times? Well, yes. In a very strange way it may even be more enjoyable to watch today.
Room 222 takes place at fictional (heck, mythical) Walt Whitman High, a school so supercalifragalistically-liberal that it could be taking place in an alternate universe.
Following The Flying Nun and Courtship of Eddie's Father and airing opposite The Beverly Hillbillies, Room 222 debuted in that golden classic TV year of 1969, a season filled with Partridge and Brady type families.
Room 222 was a different kind of sitcom. Created by James L. Brooks (Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Simpsons) and produced and sometimes directed by Gene Reynolds (M*A*S*H), Room 222 portrayed the American public school system as a fully integrated, imminently healthy place of learning. This was the first of TV's 'relevant' shows that tackled issues of the day like abortion, prejudice, teen rebellion, and drug use.
This wasn't a reflection of the reality on the ground in any place I'm aware of, most public schools were just beginning to integrate with decidedly mixed results. Just look at the South Boston School where angry parents stormed the place and would have literally ripped the black elementary kids who dared to defile their lilly white domain to death. And that was in 1975!
At Walt Whitman High the black and white students debated politely and intelligently the issues of the day while teachers sat back and allowed the free exchange of ideas. Huh?
Can you imagine today's high schoolers eargerly discussing issues in such an informed manner? Maybe, but I can't imagine students of my era doing so. We were told to shut up and listen, talking about what was on your mind in class would have had you in the principal's waiting room post haste. That's what makes Room 222 such an anomaly, an almost sad look at what could have been if we lived in a more free and open society.
This was an era when school systems around the country were moving away from drilling the three Rs all day, instead expanding the curriculum to include more variations on the subjects. In that way Room 222 provided teachers and faculty with a blueprint for a more liberal educational approach. Who knows if this affected life on the ground for students like myself. Network TV shows had a great deal of influence on society back then, for better or worse.
This is not a realistic show unless you compare it to Bewitched, I Dream of Jeanie or any of the other sitcoms on the air at the time; the anachronisms cascade down like an avalanche but with charm and intelligence.
Season two saw Karen Valentine as the perky white student teacher almost walk away with the show. A supporting role originally, Valentine graduated to full fledged star in season 3. She would go on to dominate the series in later years to the extreme detriment of the production. She looks so silly in the first episodes of this sophomore year with her Conehead hairstyle but she is an appealing character.
The breakout star should have been Heshimu as Jason Allen, far and away the most radical black person on weekly TV at the time, though that's not saying much. Just the fact that he was a forceful youngster with a full on Afro was enough to peg him as a radical on TV at that time, add to that the intelligent but forceful arguments he would make in class and you had a full on threat to the white establishment at a time when racial tensions were at their height.
I doubt seriously if the show could have made it without Heshimu and David Jolliffe as the crimson afroed white kid Bernie who joined the show in this 1970-71 season. It may be telling that Heshimu virtually disappeared from television after this series left the air.
Lloyd Haynes and Denise Nicholas shine as Pete Dixon and Liz McIntyre, TV's only African-American couple at the time. (Julia and Chet Kincaid were both single and the only other black characters at the center of a show when Room 222 debuted. Barefoot in the Park, about a young black couple, lasted just a few weeks in 1970.) Michael Constantine is remarkable as principal Seymour Kaufman.
Look for guests who later became stars like Dabney Coleman, Ed Begley, Jr., Richard Dreyfuss, and Kurt Russell as students. Even Chuck Norris turns up, as himself of course, because Chuck Norris transcends time & space. He may decide to pop up in an episode of I Love Lucy one day.
Sadly the picture quality for this season 2 release is, at best, so-so. The film for the opening theme looks like something found on the side of the road after a nasty accident with more scratches than a Grandmaster Flash album bought at the Goodwill. (So what, that theme song makes my short list as one of the best in TV history.) Heck, there was so much snow on our TVs growing up the room temperature would drop 12 degrees when you turned on the set.
The color throughout is iffy at best; the yellows are completely washed out, subtle changes suggest where the syndication cuts were. Some episodes look better than others but I'm an old school TV watcher, a little 'snow' on the screen is no big deal to me, I'm more interested in the content.
Room 222 is a thoroughly entertaining watch, fans of M*A*S*H will recognize the rhythm and tone of the show. The laughs are few but the storylines provide a fascinating glimpse at a moment in history when society was rapidly evolving toward a promising tomorrow - that was the idea anyway.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010 11:23am
MY TWO CENTS
Thinking of Alcoholism as a disease has always been a sticking point with me. I get that people can get addicted to booze but it starts with a choice so I'm reticent to think of it as a disease. Seems like a convenient way to explain away your own personal weakness. But calling 'sex addiction' a disease? Please Caucasian! If I had beauties throwing themselves at me all day they'd call me a sex addict too. But you damn sure wouldn't hear me complaining about it or getting treatment. No matter how hot you are now it'll come to an end sooner or later. THEN you'll need the counselling.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010 7:26am
LOCAL TV STARS
Nancy Pike "Miss Nancy" writes: I was Miss Nancy on WCEE TV in Rockford, Illinois, for a couple years in the early 1960's. We had a stock set that came from the franchise in Baltimore. The toys, games, scripts, songs, and even some of the commercials were also from headquarters. The teachers were trained for several days in Baltimore with the original "Miss Nancy" Claster.
I particularly remember the woman who taught us the songs. She was an old vaudeville era singer/pianist, who had written most of the tunes. In addition to doing the regular in-studio segments, periodically we made filmed visits to such locations as the fire station. These clips were then incorporated into the regular session.
The program in Rockford was 30 minutes and live every day. After RR went off the air in Rockford, I was hired to substitute in the quad cities for Miss Judy. There the program was an hour long. We were live for an hour and then taped one or two sessions each time (I believe this was the beginning of "tape" for TV) so I only had to travel down state twice a week.
Once their teacher had her baby and came back to work, I retired from Romper Room permanently but I have very fond memories of the experience, including some hilarious moments on live camera. In retrospect, I think it is amazing that the majority of children who appeared on Romper Room School seemed to know exactly what they were supposed to do and did it.
Even though the program was done in a large warehouse-type building with the news set over in one corner and the car commercial set up to go in another, the children marched straight into Romper Room School without a glance at the other areas. They were instant actors, taking on the persona of a child in school, sitting at their place at the RR desk and participating in the activities - and all without any rehearsal!
Aren't kids wonderful?!
Tuesday, January 19, 2010 7:18am
Friday, January 15, 2010 7:28am
I met Martha and Timm Perry fifteen years ago when I started TVparty. One of the first sections we created was a tribute to the local kid's show I grew up with, The Old Rebel Show on WFMY. We held an Old Rebel Reunion show at the Greensboro Library in 1997 that was very successful and I know it meant a great deal to Martha to see her husband's legacy remembered almost 20 years after his passing. She was a very sweet lady who had to endure a great deal of pain in her life - not that you'd know it because she was almost always upbeat. And when she wasn't she was funny about it. She will definitely be missed.
Should I tell you the story of the last time I saw Martha? Probably not - but I will anyway. WFMY was celebrating their 60th anniversary, this was last summer I believe. Of course, The Old Rebel Show had so much to do with the enormous success the station has enjoyed over the decades, the goodwill built up by George Perry over the 27 years he was on the air was tremendous - all of us kids growing up in Central NC appeared on The Old Rebel Show as part of a birthday party or other event. Mr. Perry was unceremoniously dumped in 1977 and he died of a heart attack - a broken heart I say - just a year or so later. He was 57 years old if I'm not mistaken.
Anyway, the station was celebrating their 60th so one of the VPs took the Perrys to lunch to discuss doing a show at the Children's Museum in the spirit of The Old Rebel. Now this is a multi-million dollar Gannett station and the VP actually took them to a burger joint next to the Wal-Mart! You think if they were a potential advertising client they would have been 'treated' to $3.00 burgers? Not hardly. And considering George Perry was canned so close to thirty years in with no retirement plan or health insurance it's especially galling. Timm and his mom struggled for all of these years with health problems and money issues as a result.
Timm put on the show at the Museum, he looks and sounds just like his dad, it's uncanny - and for their efforts they were treated to $1.00 hot dogs at the event. I told the gal from WFMY I would take them out to a nice lunch on my nonexistent expense account (I always told the Perrys I had one and would try to take them out to eat every once in a while because they had even less that I did). This didn't seem to shame the station rep at all. Martha was a proud lady, with a great deal to be proud about, and it was unconscionable to me that they were treated this way considering the difficulty they both had in getting around.
Martha loved the Harris Teeter grocery store, it was her town square if you will. Timm and Martha would practically hold court there at the Taj ma Teeter at Friendly Center. I bumped into them one day when Martha was buying a bottle of wine. She asked me if I could recommend something tasty but inexpensive - I suggested she try the stuff that comes in the cardboard box because that's all I knew about! Mr. Class, that's me.
Friday, January 15, 2010 6:38am
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