Two-hour compilation of clips of the innovative comedy series helps support the claim that “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” may have been the funniest series in the history of television. Certainly, the anniversary spec is as laugh-provoking as anything that’s been on the tube in the last several years. Viewers will be thankful for commercial breaks, giving them a chance to catch their breath.
Spec consists largely of footage from the series — which began as a mid-season replacement in January 1968 and ran through 1973 — with emphasis on the best-known, early cast members. Several brief new segments offer reminiscences of above-named regulars (sans Graves, Worley and the late Dan Rowan), captured at NBC press party at Loew’s Santa Monica Hotel on Jan. 15.
In addition to the regulars, “Anniversary Special” includes cameo appearances by more stars than could have been found on MGM’s 1939 backlot. On screen for just seconds at a time and largely unidentified, faces reel by, from Jack Benny to Otto Preminger.
Among the many guests here are Billy Graham, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Peter Sellers, James Garner, Col. Sanders, Danny Kaye, Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, Sally Field, Leonard Nimoy, Nipsey Russell, Peter Lawford, Barbara Feldon, Rod Serling , Edward G. Robinson, Cher, Dinah Shore and, of course, Tiny Tim and Richard M. Nixon.
Highlights are almost innumerable, but include Tomlin’s q&a with William F. Buckley Jr.; Peter Sellers’ attempt to explain rules of cricket to Princess-of-Ditz Hawn; Johnny Carson’s spot-on imitation of Martin in a routine with Rowan, and John Wayne’s delivery of a Henry Gibson-styled poem.
Looking back, NBC (described by Gary Owens as “the Nothing But Censors” network) let an amazing quantity of double-entendre or otherwise controversial material through: the show was strongly against the Vietnam war, for instance, and a sequence on smoking still rings true.
Sections illustrate series’s weekly “Wall” and “Cocktail Party” sequences, a long look at dazzling costumes worn by cast during intros to “Laugh-In Looks at the News,” and show’s many running characters.
Original series’ lightning pace serves well in assembling a highlights reel such as this; none of the bits lasted more than a few minutes in the first place.
Biggest drawback during program, and it’s a minor one, is failure to label celebs — was that Totie Fields? — many of whom present-day audience won’t recognize. Also, it would have been nice to give even more credit to show’s large writing staff, and to at least mention regulars who aren’t featured here. But then, probably, the special would have to be extended another hour.
“They said it wouldn’t last,” reminisces Buzzi. “And,” Hawn replies, “it didn’t.”
Maybe not, and perhaps entire original shows wouldn’t hold up in the ’90s. But this special is a keeper.