Following the lives of favorite characters one of best aspects of television viewing

2:43 pm | May 14, 2013

In my television viewing, I can rightly be accused of being a creature of habit. I like what I like, and I stick with what I like.

I don’t usually fall for a show alone. I like characters. I take to shows that invite me to follow particular characters, hopefully for a lengthy period of time.

One of my favorite current shows, “The Big Bang Theory,” recently featured veteran funny man Bob Newhart in an inspired example of guest star casting. A perennially hilarious man with a talent for the perfect delivery, Newhart has been a foil for over-the-top characters for decades, and no one’s more over-the-top than Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) on “Big Bang.” The meeting of these two comic geniuses kept me in stitches for an entire half hour. I found myself hoping Newhart will become a recurring face for this brilliant sitcom.

Last year, the world lost one of TV history’s most dastardly villains with the death at age 81 of Larry Hagman, better known to millions as J.R. Ewing.

I was only 14 when Dallas began its initial run Friday evenings on CBS. This year, the revamped “Dallas” series on TNT wrapped its second season with an apt and fitting finale for J.R., who plowed roughshod over the competition as his character became a household name in the 1980s and triggered television’s obsession with cliffhangers during the summer of “Who Shot J.R.?” mania.

This past Wednesday, veteran actress Jeanne Cooper died and brought the curtain down on an era on CBS soap opera “The Young & the Restless.”

Since 1973, Cooper’s spirited performance as Katherine Chancellor has prompted millions to pay daily weekday visits to the fictional Wisconsin hamlet of Genoa City.

Cooper started out as a wealthy socialite housewife with a drinking problem. In a genre that doesn’t get a lot of respect, she gave a cliche role some real meat.

Many people like to dismiss soaps as unrealistic and contrived. No one bothered to tell this to Cooper, as she blazed a trail as Mrs. Chancellor for 40 years. Her character conquered her demons and she persevered through 40 years as an actress in her prime in an industry that’s not always kind to women of her years.

I was only 7 when I got my introduction to the larger-than-life Mrs. Chancellor with diamonds the size of golf balls and billowing gowns.

What wasn’t there to like? Her character, for all its glitz and glamour, stood out as an admirable role model in many respects. Both actress and character refused to be sidelined by advancing age, and they also tackled some tough story lines, including alcoholism, loss of a spouse, cancer and memory lapses.

At the same time, she reveled in classic soap rivalries with her nemesis (and eventual boon companion) Jill Foster Chancellor Abbott, portrayed for the past 26 years by Jess Walton. She also showed some talent for comedy through her sparring relationship with long-time maid, Esther, played by Kate Linder.

We’ve lost the talent and spirit of Cooper and Hagman, but Newhart is very much still with us. He looked quite spry during his recent “Big Bang” episode, although he is 83 years old. If I had my way, he’d be with us for another 83 years.

“The Young & the Restless” and the new “Dallas” simply won’t be the same without Cooper and Hagman. Soaps, both daytime and primetime, never end, but an era can come to a close.
As for sitcoms, they’ll go on and on and on in reruns. “The Bob Newhart Show” and “Newhart” remain timeless in their appeal. I suspect “The Big Bang Theory” will also join the ranks of classic funny shows.

This is simply a tribute to one legend still living and a memorial to two lights who have now gone out after a brilliant run.

Larry Hagman, Jeanne Cooper and Bob Newhart

Larry Hagman, Jeanne Cooper and Bob Newhart

Here’s to Newhart, Cooper and Hagman. Just call them Woozy, Boozy and the Doozy.

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