Bookshelf is a monthly column examining printed matter relating to television. While I love watching TV, I also love reading about it, from tie-in novels to TV Guides, from vintage television magazines to old newspaper articles. Bookshelf is published on the second Thursday of each month.
The Great TV Sitcom Book
By Rick Mitz
First Published in 1980
Published by Richard Marek Publishers
I bought my copy of The Great TV Sitcom Book at a used bookstore in Cape Cod a few years ago. It cost $7, marked down from $15 and to be honest it probably wasn’t worth $7. I admit to buying it without really looking through it, so it’s my fault that I didn’t know what I was buying.
Like most books about television, most of the information contained in The Great TV Sitcom Book can easily be found online. That’s not the problem. Based solely on the title and cover and leafing through without paying attention, I was expecting some sort of television encyclopedia like Total Television or The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows only all about sitcoms. But The Great TV Sitcom Book isn’t encyclopedic at all.
Front cover to The Great TV Sitcom Book – Copyright 1980 Richard Marek Publishers
It is fairly comprehensive in scope, covering nearly every sitcom aired between 1949 and 1980, listed by season. But it’s very limited in scope. Only a handful of shows each season are described in depth. These are referred to as Front Runners. All other shows are called Also Rans and receive, at best, one or two paragraphs. Some seasons, including four consecutive from 1966 to 1969 — Mitz decided there weren’t any Front Runners.
Front Runners/Also Rans: 1954-1955Front Runners:
Father Knows Best
Love That Bob
Dear Phoebe, The Donald O’Connor Texaco Show, Hey Mulligan, Honestly Celeste!, It’s a Great Life, The Joe Palooka Story, Mayor of the Town, Norby, Professional Father, So This is Hollywood, The Soldiers, That’s My Boy, Those Whiting Girls, Willy, The World of Mr. Sweeney
Front Runners/Also Rans: 1966-1967
Family Affair, The Hero, Hey, Landlord!, It’s About Time, The Jean Arthur Show, Love on a Rooftop, The Monkees, Mr. Terrific, My Name’s McGooley, What’s Yours?, Occasional Wife, Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats, The Pruitts of Southampton, Rango, The Rounders, Run, Buddy, Run, The Tammy Grimes Show, That Girl
What differentiates a Front Runner from an Also Ran? According to Mitz, not much. It wasn’t necessarily about popularity or longevity. Some shows “were Significant or Especially Interesting or Important or Popular and I couldn’t leave them out.” Although he claims it wasn’t about whether or not he personally liked these significant shows, I find that hard to believe.
About the Also Rans, Mitz admits some might be borderline shows, or shows that were Popular only, but these were too similar to other shows to be deemed Front Runners. He then states “there were some shows that I simply couldn’t stand enough to write about for more than three paragraphs.”
In other words, The Great TV Sitcom Book is basically one man who loves television writing about his favorite sitcoms. There’s nothing wrong with that — in fact, it’s impressive that Mitz was able to parley his love of television into a book deal. But it doesn’t make for a very good reference work.
Back cover to The Great TV Sitcom Book – Copyright 1980 Richard Marek Publishers
For example, even the detailed summaries of the Front Runners don’t include basic information like the network, premiere dates or broadcast history. There is a cast list, however. The Also Rans don’t get that much.
I haven’t read through the entire book so I can’t speak to its accuracy overall. I’m guessing it includes the occasional mistake. One big one I noticed was The Bob Cummings Show being referred to only as Love That Bob, which was its syndication title. Also, in the writeup for M*A*S*H, Mitz refers to Clete Roberts (from the critically-acclaimed episode “The Interview”) as Clete Mathews.
At least two revisions were published, one in 1983 and another in 1988. If you’re a huge fan of sitcoms, it might be worth picking up a copy of The Great TV Sitcom Book. If you’re more interested in having a nice reference, you should look elsewhere.
In December 2008 I reviewed The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, perhaps the best television encyclopedia ever published.
In July 2009 I reviewed Total Television, another television encyclopedia.
In March 2010 I reviewed The Complete Encyclopedia of Television Programs, 1947-1976, considered the first television encyclopedia.
And in October 2013 I reviewed The SCI-FI Channel Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction, another genre-specific publication that, like The Great TV Sitcom Book, had its problems.