Review: 'Pioneers of Television' isn't a detailed look at medium

2013-01-13T16:00:00Z 2013-03-08T13:07:12Z Review: 'Pioneers of Television' isn't a detailed look at mediumBRUCE MILLER Sioux City Journal
January 13, 2013 4:00 pm  • 

If you grew up watching television, "Pioneers of Television" is like a class reunion.

You see old "friends," you pay attention to how they look and you wonder if, somehow, there's a big piece of information that's missing.

In the third season opener, the "Funny Ladies" get the spotlight. But it's so helter skelter, it's more like "Funny Ladies who agreed to be interviewed."

Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Burnett are here; Lucille Ball is mentioned and Betty White gets a good hat tip. But it zips by Gertrude Berg, ignores Jean Stapleton and doesn't even give some of those TV moms (like Donna Reed) the time of day.

Instead, the special pinballs around several women, stopping long enough to show Carol, Lucy and Mary clips with a little Cloris Leachman and Betty White (but not Valerie Harper) thrown in for good measure.

Moore, we learn, wasn't interested in being the standard bearer for the women's rights movement and rejected Gloria Steinem's notion that women could have it all.

Marlo Thomas, meanwhile, makes a case for her show "That Girl," suggesting it paved the way for "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

Moms Mabley and Marla Gibbs represent black women; Pat Carroll talks about several key "Funny Ladies."

While Ball gets her due (Burnett tells a great story about how she got to be a strong producer), there's no interview footage -- even though there was probably lots of it in various talk show archives.

Joan Rivers weighs in, too, and gets to be part of the mix even though she wasn't a sitcom star. There's a snippet of a Phyllis Diller routine -- and an interview. But there's nothing about "Laugh-In" or "Saturday Night Live," which spawned many comedic pioneers.

Ryan Seacrest, who narrates all of the episodes, tries to smooth over the rough spots with linking material, but "Funny Ladies" isn't chronological or definitive.

Instead, it's just a fun hour that lets fans see some fun bits and a little archival footage.

A true survey would require a more scholarly approach -- details on trends, changes and inspirations.

Tina Fey does her best to provide perspective. But she isn't given the time to connect the dots. She just pays tribute and, like the rest of us, admires what came before her.

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