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IN MEMORIAM: Vic Mizzy, Soupy Sales
October 23, 2009  | By Diane Werts
vic mizzy green acres.jpg

They're sucking all the fun out of TV.

"They" would be the grim reapers of time and evolution. While the latter agent of change seems intent on making TV as grim and/or convoluted as possible (see Heroes, Lost, Flash Forward, even the quick-cut comedy of Modern Family), the former is taking away TV's fun makers on what seems like a daily basis.

First, we lost Vic Mizzy, the composer of such whimsical TV theme song classics as The Addams Family ("They're creepy and they're kooky") and Green Acres ("The chores! The stores!").

soupy sales.jpg

Now, it's Soupy Sales, the absurdist of '60s kids' TV, who gave us hip puppets and crazed characters, while getting plastered by pies, and who once cheekily asked his young fans to send in those "funny green pieces of paper" from their parents' wallets.

Mizzy died last Saturday at the age of 93. Sales left us Thursday at 83.

They leave behind a medium that's more extensive and diverse, yet somehow less joyful.

Today's TV gives us no theme songs to parrot and cherish through the years, first singing along with our parents, later with our own kids or grandkids. And the shows those children watch are now designed to sell either products or the Disney universe (an even more insidious product), staying on the air only so long as they serve their conglomerate charge of making money.

This isn't a bout of nostalgia on my part, either, not some baby boomer looking longingly back and elevating the shows of her childhood memory to the pantheon of TV classics. I'm just as happy to watch a newer creative explosion like '80s delight Pee-wee's Playhouse and current gem SpongeBob SquarePants. I can love a sharp single-camera comedy like the ambitious '90s take on race, class and character study that was the Fox cop lampoon Bakersfield, P.D. Even Heroes its first season was a weekly revel in superpowered delight.

But then Heroes got complicated and dark and incomprehensible if you missed a single moment, which it wasn't worth the trouble of catching up to. There just isn't much TV suffused with joie de vivre anymore. Everybody takes things so seeeeriously. Even comedy. That why even though The Big Bang Theory ain't great, viewers watch, because the characters are good-hearted folks who just wanna have fun.

vic mizzy at organ.jpg

So the passing of Mizzy and Sales is a signpost in the passing of a TV era, when shows were largely lighthearted and easy to digest, even the dramas; and pretty much the entirety of America tuned in.

You'd think the networks would get this, but they don't seem to. Cable does, however -- submitting tasty treats like Monk, The Closer, Warehouse 13, Army Wives and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Even Mad Men and Breaking Bad, for all their darkness, are invested in creating visceral relationships and conflict that's easy to follow and savor. Ditto something like The Shield, which managed to deliver adult social drama through full-bodied characters and action-packed pace, not morose density.

But enough of my soapbox speechifying. (Type-ifying?) At least we can continue to savor the work of TV's dying masters of fun, thanks to the modern miracle of DVD.

Catch Mizzy's animated music in the complete series of The Addams Family (he talks about his music in the extras!) and the first three seasons of Green Acres.

Sales' kid stuff has come out on DVD, too, though not in the high-quality presentations you'd want. Even the existing DVD sets are out of print and hard to find. (Plus, The Soupy Sales Collection: The Whole Gang Is Here features material from Sales' late '70s output, not nearly as wild, inventive or well-remembered as his earlier lunacy.) But you can always try Netflix and other rental options.


1 Comment


Mac said:

Soupy's biggest contribution to us Boomers is the passing of the torch of "The Really Bad Joke". Puns, pies, pushes and kisses from enormous imaginary dogs -- an Ernie Kovacs for the kids. Thanks, Soup, for all of those really bad jokes -- I passed many of them on to my kids 'cause there wasn't enough Pee-Wee when they were growing up. Geez, thieves at Amazon have the out of print 3 DVD set of Soupy's late '70s version of the format for a mere $215.99. This is a really sad incarnation of the glory days and I think I found mine for under 5 bucks at an overstock store. It ain't worth much more. But those glorious b&w Detroit and NY shows live in my head forever. Thanks, Soup, for stooping so low to make us wee ones laugh so hard.

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