Founder / Editor


Associate Editor


Assistant Editor











GUEST BLOG #9: Tom Brinkmoeller pits Hawkeye vs. Hannah
April 20, 2009  | By Tom Brinkmoeller
[Bianculli here: This is going to be fun. Two of the new contributors to TV WORTH WATCHING are taking opposite sides of a very touchy issue. Namely: Is referring to "vintage" references when writing about pop culture putting things in context, or alienating younger readers being targeted by mass media as necessary for survival?

Today, Tom Brinkmoeller. Tomorrow, in the opposite corner, P.J. Bednarski. And boy, are all of us interested in what YOU have to say on this topic. Read on, and return tomorrow, and weigh in yourself...]

It's 2009. Do YOU know who Eddie Haskell is?

--OK, PJ. My gauntlet is old and unattractive, but I throw it down with as much gusto as my arthritis allows.--

As a Boomer, I know what it's like to have lots of attention pointed at my crowd. While it lasted, it was an intriguing time. Now it's a new season, our leaves fell from the holy tree of demographic influence a while ago, and another set of leaves is eating up the attention.

That's the way it always happens, it's natural, and what follows isn't the ranting of a jilted Geezer Boomer. The relative obscurity is pleasant.


What bothers me is that, in hoping to win the love of the current techo-generation, the country's mega-marketers have decided the "leaves" of previous generations are carcinogenic, at best, and must be destroyed, or at least ignored. They fear that references to anything that predates American Idol or is older than Hannah Montana will offend and confuse the precious target audience and result in an economic catastrophe. What's past, no matter how brilliant or enriching, is no longer prologue. It's a prime target of the delete key.

Television leads the large group of the fearful. The Techno-gens have their own brand of ambition, so contest series -- survivors, racers, bachelors, overeaters, dancers, singers, models, designers and plenty of other lemmings -- just about own prime time because the Technos identify with beating out the rest of the bunch and owning the spotlight.

I wrote a few weeks ago about a current series, Scrubs, and referenced a couple of classic TV shows in the process. A worry was passed on to me that most Technos weren't alive in 1983, when M*A*S*H ended, and that reference probably lost them.

Editor & Publisher, a trade publication that follows newspapers (think of the people who tracked the passenger pigeon into extinction), recently posted a story headlined "Journos Are Alienating Readers With 'Retro' References." The author cited stories he's sure lost many readers because they made references to Leave It to Beaver characters, The Andy Griffith Show, Dragnet, the '60s film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? and other pieces of the past Technos hadn't lived through.

Are many Technos reading TV WORTH WATCHING? Probably not. Those who do visit the site know it celebrates and explains high quality entertainment. A M*A*S*H reference almost surely didn't offend them, and if they didn't know it, they either did a quick Web search or texted an old person to get the answer.

eddie haskell.jpg

And newspapers don't alienate readers by talking about Eddie Haskell or Barney Fife, because they never had them to begin with. Newspapers, in the minds of most of the current demographic darlings, are as odd and as obscure as cars with spark plugs, 14.4 modems and telephones you plug into a wall.

David Bianculli recently reviewed a series called The Cougar. The premise is a 40-year-old woman looks for love among a throng of boys half her age. "The Newspaper" would have been a more descriptive title. Print executives across the country have turned their backs on their own, the ones that have supported them for years, to chase after much-younger masses that are only interested if the attention can earn them money and fame.

"History builds on itself" once was an accepted axiom. It has been eclipsed by "If it doesn't have a good following on Twitter, it's useless."

Sorry, Miley, but I'm certain Hawkeye Pierce will be remembered long after Hannah dissolves into a small puddle.



Tom writes: For a number of years, Tom Brinkmoeller was paid to watch and write about television. That seemingly ideal situation can't match his current one -- watching only what he enjoys, not being held hostage by a paycheck, and not having to steer a TV story through editors who think watching television impairs the brain as well as social status.


Joe said:

There is a Chinese saying: "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." An the geniuses in TV-land are dooming themselves.

Sure, TV goes in cycles: the badly staged, laugh track laden sit-coms of the 60's and 70's (think The Munsters, Green Acres, Brady Bunch...), Several high-quality "thinking person's" TV shows of the 80's (like Hills Street Blues), etc. And I'm willing to bet my lunch that we'll see refried version of some of the better shows (like WKRP in Cincinnati and Barney Miller) after this string of ersatz reality TV ends. TV executives believe that we viewers are too short-sighted to see 22 minute plot lines from the Dick Van Dyke Show re-served to us as How I Met Your Mother or some other reincarnation.

But let's look at other mass consumer industries, such as theater and mass publishing. These have been around for centuries. Authors and playwrights have time and again revisted the well to rethink Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." And audiences benefit from knowing the original story.

New TV watchers are welcome to blunder into a current running TV show and enjoy it. But these people will gain more than enjoyment from their TV experiences when they can understand the references to past greats.

How many times do we hear a passing insider reference on a TV show to such greats at Mary Tyler Moore or Johnny Carson? Or, conversely, how do we know a show/host is bad if we have no historic point of reference?

Comment posted on April 20, 2009 7:59 AM

Miles said:

What's amusing to me is how this ties together with Dave's post last week about vintage series living on in cable re-runs.

I was born in 1981, long after Leave it to Beaver and Andy Griffith went off the air, and only a couple of years before M*A*S*H would give way to After-M*A*S*H.

But many of us grew up watching those shows in syndication or in re-runs on cable. So I doubt the references are lost on those in their 20s.

When we performed the stage play version of M*A*S*H my senior year of high school in 1998, everyone coveted the role of Hawkeye Pierce.

When I was cast as Captain Augustus Bedford Duke, I had to explain to all my friends that he was one of the main characters in the novel and the Robert Altman film; a character was almost completely excised from the ubiquitous television series.

And everyone knew the tune to "Suicide is Painless".

Such claims of "demographic alienation with retro references" are indictative of lazy marketing departments who design their studies to support their personal hypotheses.

Conversely, I've never watched anything Hannah Montana related, and I'm in that coveted 18-49 demo. So, maybe I'm being alienated by all that Miley Cyrus chatter.

Comment posted on April 20, 2009 9:48 AM

Tom Brinkmoeller said:

If it's permitted, a P.S.: I really don't care who wins this joust. Just because P.J. and I wrote about television for competing Cincinnati newspapers in the early '80s, I don't have a huge stake in this. Just because my editor at the time, in an annual performance review, told me P.J. was a much better writer, I can't say that I care how the public comes down on this issue. Just because my employer at the time, Gannett, hired P.J. to do TV criticism for USA Today and didn't even interview me (or tell me they had hired him--I learned through a wire story), doesn't mean I look at this as a way to finally put a couple of runs on the scoreboard.
And when the tally is complete, perhaps I won't end up like Al Gore: second in a disputed race. But think about it: G.W.B., P.J.B. And there's a rumor his dog's name is Cheney.
But, honest: this isn't a big thing.

Comment posted on April 20, 2009 9:54 AM

Neil said:

Tom, permit me a nit to pick.

Towards the end of your essay, you write:

> Newspapers, in the minds of most of the
> current demographic darlings, are as odd
> and as obscure as cars with spark plugs,
> 14.4 modems and telephones you plug into
> a wall.

I can't argue about the 14.4 modems (though there was a time I would have killed for that kind of speed), but whether or not our "current demographic darlings" know it or not, their cars all - except perhaps the handful of all-electric ones - still have spark plugs.

Maybe you meant to say "carburetor", or "points and condenser", in which case you'd be correct. But plugs are still an elemental part of any internal combustion engine.

I could also dispute your point about wired phones, but I'll leave that to another nitpicker.

Comment posted on April 20, 2009 1:17 PM

Sarah said:

Like Miles, I was born in 1980 and as a kid I watched new shows like The Cosby Show one night and whatever what was on Nick at Nite (and, later, TV Land) the next. Now being the pop culture enthusiast that I am, I feel like I need to know about every series that has aired a decade (or two) before I was born to the present, so I actually know who Hawkeye and Hannah Montana are and I have to agree that Hawkeye is the character that will be remembered.

I started watching reruns of MASH because it is one of my mom's favorite shows. It was on one day when I was home alone and she was right. It is one of the best series I have seen.

Hannah is a nice kid but that is all she is -- just a kid -- and soon her fans, who are mostly kids, will grow up and forget all about her.

Hawkeye has flaws. Hawkeye has feelings: about the war, his patients and the people he works with; Hannah Montana has a laugh track. Benjamin Franklin 'Hawkeye' Pierce can start real adult conversations, while Hannah Montana is good to put on when the kids are getting on your nerves (my mom had Mr. Rogers).

MASH and Hawkeye are timeless and that is the best thing for a series to be.

Comment posted on April 21, 2009 11:07 PM

waiguoren said:

Just like to add to the comments that people born in the 80s aren't completely unaware of everything that preceded them. I was born in '82, and while I'm not actually a huge fan of any of the shows mentioned, I have heard of and at least seen an episode or two of all of them. I have never watched anything with Hannah Montana in it. I'm also a huge Simpsons fan (along with most of my generation) which in its 90s heyday was full of references to things that came before, many of which I hadn't seen when I first watched them -- but that never stopped me from enjoying the show. The internet has made it easier than ever to look things up, so I think people should reference away.

Comment posted on April 24, 2009 4:46 AM
Leave a Comment: (No HTML, 1000 chars max)
 Name (required)
 Email (required) (will not be published)
Type in the verification word shown on the image.