Sunday, November 18, 2007

Top 100 TV Icons?

I’ll be starting on a Short Takes piece later today, but I’ll probably hold it until Monday in “hopes” that the PTC will have a little something for me which they haven’t as of Sunday morning. Meanwhile, I know you’ve probably seen this list before, or at least part of it since most media sources have it as TVLand’s Top 50 TV Icons, but there were 100 on the full list, and if you go to the TVLand site for the TV icons they start with the bottom 50 and then goes to the top 50, so there.

1 Johnny Carson
2 Lucille Ball
3 Oprah Winfrey
4 Bill Cosby
5 Walter Cronkite
6 Carol Burnett
7 Mary Tyler Moore
8 Jerry Seinfeld
9 Homer Simpson
10 Dick Clark
11 Roseanne
12 Dick Van Dyke
13 Jackie Gleason
14 Ed Sullivan
15 "Not Ready for Primetime Players"
16 David Letterman
17 Bob Newhart
18 William Shatner
19 Andy Griffith
20 Carroll O'Connor
21 Kermit
22 Milton Berle
23 Barbara Walters
24 Michael Landon
25 Heather Locklear
26 Farrah Fawcett
27 Regis Philbin
28 Howard Cosell
29 John Ritter
30 Alan Alda
31 Sarah Jessica Parker
32 Henry Winkler
33 Ellen DeGeneres
34 Bob Barker
35 Michael J. Fox
36 Diahann Carroll
37 George Clooney
38 Bea Arthur
39 Jennifer Aniston
40 Sally Field
41 Jon Stewart
42 James Gandolfini
43 Flip Wilson
44 Susan Lucci
45 Sarah Michelle Gellar
46 Lassie
47 Simon Cowell
48 Jimmy Smits
49 Calista Flockhart
50 Larry Hagman
51 Bob Hope
52 Ron Howard
53 Ed McMahon
54 Florence Henderson
55 Fred Rogers
56 Betty White
57 Charlie Brown
58 Don Knotts
59 Ted Danson
60 Merv Griffin
61 Pee Wee Herman
62 Redd Foxx
63 Ed Asner
64 Phil Donahue
65 Pamela Anderson
66 Kelsey Grammer
67 Tom Selleck
68 Don Cornelius
69 Barbara Eden
70 Bob Denver
71 Rosie O'Donnell
72 Cher
73 Tony Danza
74 Joan Rivers
75 Peter Falk
76 Candice Bergen
77 James Garner
78 Art Carney
79 Angela Landsbury
80 Adam West
81 Dick Cavett
82 Ted Knight
83 Isabel Sanford
84 Cartman from South Park
85 Rod Serling
86 Jerry Mathers
87 Phil Hartman
88 Gavin MacLeod
89 Robert Guillaume
90 John Stamos
91 Dennis Franz
92 Judge Judy
93 Neil Patrick Harris
94 Melissa Gilbert
95 Richard Dawson
96 Shannen Doherty
97 In Living Color cast
98 Meredith Baxter
99 Delta Burke
100 Marcia Cross

Not a bad list particularly in the Top Ten. I’m not sure you can even disagree too much about position in the Top Ten, and certainly Carson is the TV icon. Now what people will say twenty years from now is an entirely different question. I frankly doubt that many people will know that much about Johnny or Walter Cronkite in twenty years (in much the same way that twenty years later Johnny was making occasional jokes to Americans about Wayne & Shuster, which we Canadians didn’t get), while they will know and probably appreciate Lucille Ball, Bill Cosby and probably Mary Tyler Moore. Sic transit gloria mundi – all glory is fleeting; lists like this moreso.

The further down the list you go, the more controversial it becomes. As usual, the list is overloaded with people who were prominent in the past twenty to twenty five years. More than half fit into that period. Realistically what are Callista Flockhart, Shannen Doherty, and John Stamos doing on this list? Where are Jack Webb, Jack Benny, and Edward R. Murrow? Marcia Cross is considered a TV icon from a show that has been on for three years and a bit (Desperate Housewives) but James Arness, who was on Gunsmoke for twenty years isn’t. There are many more of course; I for one am still trying to figure out Meredith Baxter – loved her since Bridget Loves Bernie but a TV icon?

Position is another thing. You can argue position (outside of the top ten of course) for days or weeks. There are some pretty egregious positioning errors (in my opinion of course). Rod Serling deserves to be in the top fifteen rather than the bottom fifteen, and Ron Howard should probably be higher for portraying Opie Taylor and Richie Cunningham, than Sarah Michelle Gellar for playing the evil Kendall on All My Children and more significantly Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There are a lot more of these of course.

Biggest thing about most of these TV Icons though is most of them couldn’t do it without writers. Cronkite? He’d be okay – this is a correspondent who landed with the 101st Airborne at Eindhoven and hauled out his portable typewriter to start doing dispatches as soon as his glider landed. Ed Sullivan and Howard Cosell would have been fine too, not because they were both good writers – they were – but because what they did either didn’t need writers (who needs a writer to say “And now here on our stage”) or because what they did was largely improvisation in the first place. You could put Oprah, Bob Barker, Regis Philbin, Judge Judy, Phil Donahue, and maybe – maybe – Dick Clark and Don Cornelius in the same sort of class. I think Carson could do it by himself but it wouldn’t be easy on him. Ellen Degeneres is doing it on her own, and the less said about that the better. Some of the people who did stand-up before they became sitcom stars might be able to do a little but I doubt it; stand-up and sitcoms are two different kinds of writing. And of course Lassie. Lassie didn’t need writers to bark. He did however need writers to give him things to bark about and to tell his handlers when to get him to bark. For the rest, without the writers it would all be dumb show and they know it.

But it’s all subjective after all. If the Writers’ strike goes on much longer – and while the news that the parties are going back to the table on November 26th is a potentially promising sign, I’m fairly convinced that a big reason for AMPTP returning to the table is the overwhelming public support that the Writers’ Guild has received (more on that theory in the Short Takes piece) and things may collapse fairly quick – I’ll come up my own list, but again that’s going to be entirely subjective and more or less ephemeral. Meanwhile, argue about this one, vote in the poll about the strike (first returns fit my expectations, and more on that in the Short Takes piece too) and click on the Free Rice link too.

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