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Jean Shepherd returns to public TV
Airdate: Tuesday - April 16, 1985


Last Update: 03-22-2012

Show Description
NEW YORK - "Looks familiar, doesn't it?" Jean Shepherd inquires as he guides his skiff toward the thick, dark slime of the Okefenokee Swamp. "That's where we all came from, the primordial ooze." Shepherd has a knack for summarizing a circumstance, like the origin of life, in a fresh, pithy and eminently funny way, and he doesn't seem fazed by the news from California that life may have emerged from clay, and not mire. "The Times (New York, where Shepherd read of the theory) is always killing your dream," he said. "So much for the swamp, yeah!" Shepherd - writer, actor and keen observer - is a bearded national treasure, and if time is money, his half-hour show, "Jean Shepherd's America," which starts at 1:30 p.m. Saturday on WCNY-TV (Ch.24), is worth a million. It's a return to public TV for "Jean Shepherd's America," first broadcast in the 1971-72 season. The new set includes 10 original productions, beginning with "Mosquitoes and Moon Pies" from the Okefenokee. Shepherd has done several things for public television since the series' first run, including "Phantom of the Open Hearth" for "Visions" and "The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters" and "The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski" for "American Playhouse." He has a novel coming out in October, based on his experiences in the Army, and at least three paperbacks in print, including "A Fistful Of Fig 'Newtons," "Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories," and "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash." Shepherd's work is not necessarily autobiographical, though it does have that overtone, Some of it is set in Hohman, Ind., across from Chicago, which probably is Hammond. "My father was a cartoonist for The Chicago Tribune," Shepherd said. "He looked like Clifton Webb. No, I would say he was a cross between Jack Nicholson and Paul Newman. He was always very elegantly dressed. "The big change in my life was when I went into the Army," he said. "I didn't fight it. I liked it." What that says is that the next novel is worth waiting for. "Jean Shepherd's America" is unique, one of those rare programs for which you won't mind setting aside a good book, or a model ship, or whatever, once a week to watch. The really nice thing is that Shepherd doesn't seem to do much of anything but utter, after appropriate consideration, what comes to mind. In the end, though, you're left holding a gem. "My stuff seems so artless," he said, "and I know people say, 'If I had the time, I could do it.' Anyone in the trade knows how difficult it really is." Shepherd's writing is that way, too - simple in structure but loaded with subtle turn and hidden, generally hilarious meaning. "A lot of TV fans," he said, "are not going to understand this (the series). It takes too much concentration." That doesn't mean they won't like it, because even without a lot of deep - thought, "Jean Shepherd's America' is very funny television. Take "Filthy Rich at Last," on April 30. The program begins with a shot of a 10,000-dollar bill. Right, $10,000. "This is one of the rarest sights that's available to us today," Shepherd says in his distinctive, gravelly voice. "Not available to many... Why don't you just reach out and touch the screen? ... "Wallowing in ill-gotten gains," he adds after a while, "is one of life's attainable pleasures." And, "Oh, God, it's so much fun to own a yacht." The remainder of the half-hour is spent aboard that estimable craft ("A yacht," Shepherd says, quoting his father, "is a boat that doesn't do anything"), during which the viewer is treated to the narrator's seemingly random fancy, concluding, though not ending, with: "Filthy rich at last.... Ha, ha, ha! ... The American dream." Out of Shepherd's mouth, it's a disposition rather than a simple line, and it's beautiful. "That's really the difference between humor and comedy," he said. "Comedy sets up lines; humor is an attitude, and much harder to sustain, I might add."
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April 16,1985
Daily News - Article about JSA

Courtesy: FHC / JSP

Airdate History ' - Original' date is earliest known broadcast)
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