WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The season premiere of “Pioneers of Television” at 8 p.m. today on PBS is more TV legends talking about their claims to fame, as Season 4’s four weekly hours explore the medical genre, comedy acting, ethnic groundbreakers and, first up, “Standup to Sitcom.”
Jerry Seinfeld discusses molding his NBC series around his observational routines, because, he says, if you’re doing standup, “you’re not really good at anything but that.” Ray Romano, though, is shown stretching from the family laughs of CBS’ “Everybody Loves Raymond” to the midlife drama of TNT’s “Men of a Certain Age.”
Both discuss shaping their shows’ creation, as do Roseanne Barr (ABC’s “Roseanne”), Tim Allen (ABC’s “Home Improvement”), Bob Newhart (CBS’ 1970s “Bob Newhart Show” and ’80s “Newhart”) and Bill Cosby (NBC’s smash “Cosby Show”).
MY SAY: Maybe the word “explore” is too heavy for what “Pioneers” does: collect interesting first-person anecdotes that never quite coalesce into insight. This hour is focused as much on standup craft as sitcom-building, and fails to put the comics’ genre-expanding series concepts into the context of their times. It’s a dash through a topic – and an ensemble of artists – deserving more depth.
But it’s loaded with great series clips. And youthful standup glimpses – Romano’s old black-and-white tape; Seinfeld, Allen and Barr debuting on Johnny Carson’s king-making “Tonight Show.”
BOTTOM LINE: Tasty. But not very filling.