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23May/150

Radio Comedy Review: The Mel Blanc Show

Around the world, people are sitting at their computer listening to Old Time Radio.

In Boston, Jim says, “I can’t get enough of that Jack Benny.”

While in Sidney, Mike says, “I can’t get enough of the Great Gildersleeve.”

Meanwhile in Boise, Adam Graham sighs and says, “Enough of this Mel Blanc show.”

—If the Writers of Mel Blanc wrote an intro for this review.

Mel Blanc was best known as the voice of Bugs Bunny and a host of other Warner Brothers cartoon characters. He’d also become a real presence on radio, providing talents to a variety of comedians including Abbott and Costello and Burns and Allen where he played the morose and abused “Happy Postman.” He’d also been a regular on the Armed Forces Radio Services portraying a stuttering Private Sad Sack (a modified version of his Porky Pig voice) for programs such as Command Performance and Mail Call.

So, it was natural he would land a sitcom. Unfortunately, for him, he landed it at CBS. CBS comedies during this era were very hit and miss. The Mel Blanc Show would be the first of three CBS programs that wasted a reserve of comedy talent due to sub-par scripts.

It was  not due to a lack of talent. Mel Blanc played himself and he also played his assistant Zookie, who was essentially a civilian version of Sad Sack. Throughout, the production Mel Blanc was supported by Mary Jane Croft as Mel’s girlfriend Betty and the legendary Joseph Kearns appeared as her grumpy father. At different times, the series was supported by Hans Conreid, Alan Reed, and Jim Backus among others.

Early episodes were burdened by an unnecessary uncle who didn’t contribute any plot or humor as well as a third Mel Blanc character, Dr. Chris Crabbe, a vet who had some mannerisms of a dog. The character was strictly for the dogs and was discarded. Also Betty had a little brother who disappeared from the show.

The story improved from dreadful to below average after the first dozen episodes as it relied more on Mel Blanc’s legendary voice talent. To save himself from whatever predicament he got himself into, he’d unleash one or more of his legendary voices. Most of the show’s truly funny scenes came from these moments. I couldn’t help but think this would have been a much better show had they made it a sketch comedy show like Red Skelton.

The program featured a nice set from Victor Miller and the Sportsmen every episode. If you delight in 1940s music, even if you can’t get into the comedy, the musical interlude is pleasant.

However, overall, I have to rank this pretty low compared to other comedies of the era.

The first problem is it was too repetitive.

Repetition and running gags are part of comedy. There’s nothing wrong with them, to a point. Repeating catchphrases is part of situation comedy from Lum Edwards saying, "I'm worn to a frazzle, worn to a frazzzle" to Steve Urkel's nasally plea of, "Did I do that?" after one catastrophe or another. Even show without such obvious repetition would have characters doing similar things.

The problem with the Mel Blanc show is, once the show is established, every episode is exactly the same with the opening narration illustrating how pathetic Mel is, to Betty's  father coming over to complain about a repair job and calling Mel an idiot, and Mel "accidentally" calls him one back. Then we learn about what passes for a plot and Mel gets some task, Zookie goes to talk to Betty's father, which leads to Mel being displaced by Hartley Bentley, who brags about how attractive women find him. Then Mr. Cushing the lodge president comes over and complains about how ugly his wife is. After this, Mel finally gets around to explaining his problem. Mr. Cushing suggests he disguise himself and use a funny voice, Mel Blanc does so, has a final scene with Betty, cue the music.

The show's writer, Mac Benoff, would eventually get less repetitive, though not until he wrote Life with Luigi.  When I reviewed Life with Luigi three and a half years ago, I noted it was somewhat repetitive. Compared to the Mel Blanc Show, Life with Luigi was the most original program on radio.

The other thing Benoff would figure out is how to make his lead character likable. As written, the character of Mel is a born loser with no personality. It's hard to root for the character to triumph and get the girl when I see no reason to care about him at all.  At a time when radio featured such likable and memorable characters as Fibber McGee, the Great Gildersleeve, and Chester Riley, Mel is written as a nebulous void.

The show was cancelled after one season with poor ratings and I can't argue with either the network or the audience. The best thing to say for the Mel Blanc Show is that, unlike CBS's future talent-wasting comedy duds, the show did no long-term harm.

After a decade and a half in serialized daily radio comedy and six movies, in 1948,  Lum 'n Abner came to CBS prime time in a show sponsored by Fridgidaire. It essentially destroyed their careers. In 1950, After nine seasons and four movies as the Great Gildersleeve, Harold Peary got his own show for CBS, which lasted one season and managed to put him into supporting roles for the rest of his career.

Mel Blanc's career emerged unscathed. Blanc continued to provide voices for all the wonderful cartoon characters he was legendary for doing. He also did radio work and made the transition to early television along stars such as Jack BennyThroughout his lengthy career, he showed how funny he could be when given good material. It's a pity that didn't happen in the show that bears his name.

Rating: 2.0 out of 5.0

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27Jan/130

Radio’s Most Essential People Countdown: #22-#21

Previous Posts: 24-2326-2528-2730-2933-3136-3439-3742-4045-4348-4651-4954-5257-5560-5865-6170-66,  71-7576-8081-8586-9091-9596-100

22) Fred Allen

Fred AllenFred Allen was one of radio's most remembered and most beloved satirists, and most successful personalities. Beginning in 1929, Allen embarked on a 20 year career in radio beginning with the Little Show and proceeding through a wide variety of sponsors from Hellman's Mayonaise to Texaco Fire Chief Gasoline. Allen famously "feuded" with fellow-comedian Jack Benny for years creating some of radio's most memorable comedy moments. Allen also original Allen's Alley which had a small town of hilarious characters offer their witty comments on the news of the day with the most famous citizen being Alan Reed's Falstaff Openshaw. Allen often ran into difficulty with network censors over the issues that would seem trivial today. In one instance, censors objected to his wife Portland Hoffa saying she'd wasted a day at the rodeo for fear of offending rodeo fans. Thankfully for everyone, Allen was talented enough to work around the network's pettiness and most Americans had a far better sense of humor than the networks as evidence by Allen's long-term radio success.

21) Mel Blanc

Mel BlancMel Blanc is perhaps the greatest voice in Warner Brother's golden age of animation but he was just as vital to comedy on radio. He's radio credit list reads like a Who's Who of radio comedy with him appearing of the programs of such stars as Abbott and Costello, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Danny Kaye, the Great Gildersleeve, and Bob Hope. He also had a show of his own from 1946-47. He had many notable characters including the "Happy Postman" for many years on the Burns and Allen show. Of course, his cartoon work came into play. During one episode of Abbott and Costello, Bugs Bunny actually appeared in the day's story. And for the Armed Forces Radio Services programs such as GI Journal, Blanc took the stuttering of his Porky Pig characted and amped it up to create the create the character of Private Sad Sack. For both civilian and military audiences, Blanc provided unforgetable characterization and great comic timing that has made him an indispensable part of radio's golden age.

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