The kickoff to ATAS’ Emmy week and a benefit for the Academy’s education program and the Archive of American Television, Sunday’s “Television Night at the Bowl” was an entertaining, nostalgic evening, conjuring up memories of classic comedies, dramas, miniseries and variety shows. But what the production most resembled — with two giant Emmys flanking the Bowl’s stage — was another television staple, the awards show.
Mary Tyler Moore was the perfect choice for host, and she kept the well-planned evening moving at a crisp pace. Conductor John Mauceri led the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and opened the evening with a charming overture of some of television’s best known themes: Walter Schumann’s “Dragnet,” Lalo Schifrin’s “Mission: Impossible,” Morton Stevens’ “Hawaii Five-O” and Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” which will forever be identified with “The Lone Ranger.”
A reminder of how indelibly this music has imprinted itself on our national consciousness, the rest of the evening brought home the fact that television themes are most effective when heard in short bursts; the suites of music from different shows only added to that impression. With their intertwining of themes and musical cues, the impact of the music was blunted.
The most effective was a rousing 20-minute arrangement of Richard Rogers’ score for “Victory at Sea,” with narration by Robert Guillaume, who still looks frail following his stroke but was in strong voice. The swelling, Coplandesque themes of Basil Poledouris’ “Lonesome Dove” and W.G. “Snuffy” Walden’s “West Wing” also worked, and the sci-fi tandem of music from the various “Star Trek” series, by Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith and Dennis McCarthy, and Mark Snow’s themes from “The X-Files” gave the evening’s second half an eerily atmospheric start.
But Mike Post was ill-served by the suite of his themes, which he also conducted. Heard together, music from “L.A. Law,” “Law & Order” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.” sounded too similar, each drawing from a narrow range of stylistic mannerisms and harmonies and sounding like a parody of 1990s jazz-lite. And the suite of music from the “Hallmark Hall of Fame” felt like a 15-minute product placement.
The rest of the evening was given over to more lighthearted moments. The clumsy variety show tribute featuring the game duet of Jason Alexander and Jane Krakowski only served to remind attendees why those shows have disappeared from the airwaves; a sing-along of famous themes such as “The Brady Bunch,” “The Addams Family,” “The Mickey Mouse Club” and “Davy Crockett,” led by the stars of the various shows, turned the Bowl into an enormous summer camp. It was capped off by a surprise appearance by Dick Van Dyke, who led “the Van-tastiks” through a barbershop quartet version of the classic “Dick Van Dyke Show” theme, with rarely heard lyrics by Morey Amsterdam. And although it showcased the talents of big-voiced teenager Lauren Frost and Mustard Seeds of Faith Children’s Choir, the medley of “Over the Rainbow” and “Amazing Grace” seemed out of place. Yes, both songs have been heard on TV, but wasn’t this supposed to be celebration of music written for TV?
Following a fireworks show accompanying John Williams’ “Liberty Fanfare,” the show came to a warm close with the orchestra sending the crowd home with Eliot Daniel’s theme to “I Love Lucy” and an unannounced Carol Burnett singing the theme from her variety show.