Tuesday, December 3, 2019

TV Guide's "Most Talented Stars of 1986"

This week's bonus episode featured a TV Guide game based on the June 7-13, 1986 issue, the cover story of which proclaims, "A Blue-Ribbon Panel Picks 11...THE MOST TALENTED STARS ON TV."

We mentioned on the podcast that pictured are Bruce Willis, Sharon Gless, and Michael J. Fox, but who are the other 8 most talented? And who the heck is on that "blue-ribbon panel"?

Well, one of those panelists is Steven Bochco! The Guide says it commissioned the group to determine a list of performers who could always be counted on to be not just good, but terrific. So the panel consists of "television producers, directors, and casting directors."

The article introduces the concept and gets a few quotes from voters on what makes a TV actor great. Leonard Hill, a producer, distinguishes the ease of TV stars from the intensity of movie stars like Bobby DeNiro (OK, he didn't call him "Bobby.") Bill Persky, then producer and director on Kate and Allie, talks about the ability of a performer to pretty much be himself. However, casting director Phyllis Huffman emphasizes the importance of good technique.

The story then divides the most talented into categories, with first up being Dramatic Series. Chosen are: Sharon Gless, Tyne Daly, Bruce Willis, and Cybill Shepherd. Gless is called the most frequently praised of anyone in any category, while co-star Daly "is considered the consummate professional." The mag points out that Daly has won 3 Emmys while Gless has won zero at this point (Gless would win her first at the next ceremony).

It's interesting that the Moonlighting stars are in the dramatic category. Cybill "seems to have surprised everyone" with her work on the show, we read. Mike and I talked about her being underappreciated when we discussed Moonlighting, but here she gets significant praise. Producer Stan Marguiles calls Willis "the freshest character on television."

Next we get to sitcoms, and first up is Bill Cosby, about whom producer David Wolper says, "he's down to earth, he's what life is all about." Uh, we hope not! Shelly Long is praised for her Cheers work, and once again maybe we were a little too defensive of her on our podcast. Also named are Michael J. Fox and John Ritter. The latter choice stands out because this was post Three's a Crowd and pre-Hooperman--not exactly a period you would expect to be his critical zenith.

The final category is Movies and Miniseries (Remember when networks cared about original movies and miniseries), with the honorees Jane Alexander, Joanne Woodward, and Richard Chamberlain. Bochco calls Chamberlain "terribly versatile."

The article closes with a list of the honorable mentions. In alphabetical order, they are Harry Anderson, Bea Arthur, Pierce Brosnan, Margaret Colin, Richard Crenna, Genius Award Winner Ed Flanders, Veronica Hamel, Angela Lansbury, Judith Light, Bob Newhart, Lee Remick, Martin Sheen, George Wendt, Mare Winningham (likely due to her TV movie work at the time), and Alfre Woodward.

A compelling sidebar lists the most overrated actors. The panelists were promised anonymity in exchange for naming the ones who get too much praise. Shelley Long made this category, too (possibly named by only one person), along with Joan Collins, Linda Evans, Peter Strauss, and Daniel J. Travanti ('When I watch him, all I see is ego." This part is all too brief, but my favorite passage is: "Probably three quarters of all the people who are considered stars qualify for this category," grumbles Bochco.

Panelists not named above are: Karen Arthur (director), Jane Feinberg (casting director), Patrick Hasburgh (producer), Lamont Johnson (director), Gene Reynolds (producer and subject of some discussion on previous podcast episodes), and Michael Zinberg (producer).

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