"Our award is that 30 million people are watching," Miller says. "To me, the goal is to entertain. And if you're doing an 8 o'clock show, that means you also try to make them intelligent, you have them tell a story that has not a preachy moral necessarily, but something there so that it's not a bad thing if you watch it. The fact that those (shows) don't win awards means nothing to me if we continue to please that many people."
"When people come home after a day of hard knocks," Bloomberg says, "I don't think they want to see the sturm and drang of family fighting. To show some of the more positive aspects of domesticity is not a terrible thing. People do get some sort of satisfaction from seeing family problems resolved in a positive fashion."
Others don't agree. Richard Schickel, film critic for Time magazine, says that there is something insidiously wrong with presenting families that "get it together so easily" week after week. He says that he actually feels guilty after watching certain family sitcoms--guilty for not being as good a husband or father as the men he sees on television.
"There are unreasonable expectations being generated, I think, on young people in particular who are going to start to wonder, 'How come my mom and dad aren't so niftily caring and so willing to drop other preoccupations and deal with my issues?'," Schickel contends.
"The obvious reason people watch these shows in such huge numbers is that their own life is so messy. It's refreshing to see that problem solving is possible. . . . And you can never underestimate the desire to feel warm and cuddly at the end of these things.
"But," Schickel wonders, "don't you think people need just the opposite these days after eight years of Reagan and a year of Bush? Enough with the 'there aren't any problems' already. For the last two decades, the American family has been a very troubled institution. These TV families make it seem as if there is no trouble with the institution. My sense of television is that no one individual program is dangerous by itself, but a steady diet of this kind of nonsense is bound to have some effect."
"So what if they are unrealistic," argues Henry Winkler, who played "The Fonz" for 11 years on "Happy Days" and calls Tom Miller his "mentor."
"Here's the truth: People watch television for three reasons. One is to get a glimpse of the world. One is to be entertained. And one is to be emotionally taken care of because it is so difficult to live at this point in history. They don't only want that warm, emotional moment--they need it. This man (Miller) instinctively understands that."
For a few years in the early '80s, when shows like "Dallas," "Dynasty" and "Magnum, P.I." dominated the top of the television charts and several powerhouse comedies from the previous decade like "Happy Days," "All in the Family" and "MASH" were fading, family sitcoms were considered extinct by many television executives. Then Tartikoff put "The Cosby Show" on NBC's schedule, and it became a phenomenon, spawning "Growing Pains," "Mr. Belvedere," "Who's the Boss?," "The Hogan Family," "ALF," "Major Dad," "My Two Dads," "Full House," which is essentially "My \o7 Three\f7 Dads," and so on.
While Tartikoff is also renown for programming such critics' darlings as "Hill St. Blues," "St. Elsewhere," "L.A. Law," "Miami Vice" and "Cheers," he insists that even if some slightly cynical people consider the happy, positive relationships these shows depict "Pollyannaish," there is nonetheless a place for them in the "television landscape."
"You can get cynical about Miller-Boyett shows dating all the way back to 'Happy Days,' " Tartikoff says. "The music swells up and you know you will have a warm moment even before you hear the dialogue because you've already heard the music swell. But I don't think those shows are any more harmful or unrealistic than having the cops catch the bad guy 51 minutes into every episode of 'Magnum' or 'Hunter.' "
Tartikoff, Miller and Boyett all contend that some of these sitcoms, particularly "The Hogan Family," are underestimated by the people who comment on television. "The big shock is that television is not so bad," Miller says. "Lowell Ganz (who wrote for 'The Odd Couple' and other television shows and scripted the feature films 'Splash' and 'Parenthood') was at a party and some friends said, 'I'm amazed at how bad television is.' And he said, 'I'm amazed at how good it is. I think it's fantastic that they can do that well turning out 24 episodes a year.' Just think of how many movies you go and pay money for and you don't even get one good laugh."
Tartikoff points to episodes in which "The Hogan Family" tackled such realistic topics as swearing, race relations, death, drunk driving and one episode, suggested by Tartikoff himself, which stated that "real-life" was far different than the way life is routinely depicted on sitcoms.