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Rusty Saber

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by Joe McAdoo

As I write this, the big media hype of the moment is the final show of "Seinfeld." Seinfeld's last stand is even bigger news than if free doses of Viagra were being given away. It's that big.

I probably won't watch the finale. I've only watched a couple of episodes. It wasn't for me. Rather than watch a "Show about nothing," I prefer one about something. To me, it was too trendy, too yuppish, too New Yorkified. I don't care about the daily lives of self-centered New York thirtysomething yuppies.

New York is a nice place to visit as long as you choose where you visit as if your life depends on it, because it does but I wouldn't want to live there; nor am I interested in people who do.

Because I didn't care for "Seinfeld" doesn't make it a bad show. To many addicted viewers, it was the best thing to happen to TV since the invention of the picture tube. Fans say two important things (to me) about the show: They identified with the characters and their relationships, and the show was always well-written.

These are key ingredients for quality. Good writing creates characters with whom audiences can relate. Talented actors can take the writer's lines and develop characters and relationships that appeal to people. But the writing comes first. Any good actor who has been unable to save a poorly scripted movie or TV show will gladly tell you that good writing is everything.

With so many insipid TV sitcoms around today, a well-written and -acted one stands out like Rush Limbaugh at a meeting of the Democratic National Committee.

Zany characters doing idiotic things is no substitute for well-written scripts. One would think the success of "Seinfeld" would convince TV executives that writing, not foolishness, accounts for quality entertainment. The relatively short history of TV situation comedies has produced only a handful of memorable programs, all of which coupled good writing and good acting.

"I Love Lucy" was slapstick comedy, but it was well-written and -acted slapstick. Nearly 50 years later, in reruns, the humor stands up.

The "Honeymooners" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" are still popular in reruns. Costumes, hairstyles and television technologies are dated, but the dialogue and characterizations aren't.

Two of the shows "Seinfeld" has been compared to are "M*A*S*H*" and "Cheers." If it compares favorably to these two shows, I'm sorry I didn't watch it. If other sitcoms have been as consistently well-written as "M*A*S*H*" and "Cheers," I'm unaware of them.

"M*A*S*H*" created characters with whom we can relate. Anyone who served in the armed forces knew people like them; however, you have to be ex-military to relate to them.

Characters seemed to be real human beings. As such, they were drawn in shades of gray. Good guys weren't always good, jerks weren't always jerks. For instance, good-guy Hawkeye could be a real jerk. Conversely, Major Burns, the ultimate fictional jerk, could evoke sympathy from viewers.

The writers played on the close proximity in which the characters lived and worked, brilliantly portraying situations leading to the relationships that made the show popular.

"Cheers" was funny and meaningful it was a show about something. Most of us would like to go to a place where everybody knows our names. The writers gave the bar flies inhabiting "Cheers" personalities that came alive in front of our eyes.

We may not hang out in bars, but we recognize the personalities. They exist in almost all environments. Who doesn't know a Cliff or a Norm? The blending of characters made the bar a humorous backdrop for a study of the human experience.

"M*A*S*H*" and "Cheers" created people we liked and missed when they were gone. This explains why they live on in reruns. I, for one, would rather watch a rerun of an old "M*A*S*H*"or "Cheers" than most of the silly first-run sitcoms on the air today.

Fans of "Seinfeld" will probably feel the same about reruns of their favorite show. I wonder if the writing will hold up 20 years from now. That will be the acid-test of how good the program was the first time around.

Regardless of the venue, there is no substitute for good writing.

(Joe McAdoo is former chairman of the communication department at Drury College and a Springfield public relations consultant.)

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