Sunday, May 26, 2013

Fernwood 2Night & The Life and Times of Tony Roletti

Fernwood 2nite was one of those rare summer replacements that was better than the show it replaced - in this case Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. A send-up of local talk shows that were so pervasive on TV in 1977, this series had a spectacular writing staff that included Harry Shearer and two hosts that became a dream improv pairing, Martin Mull and Fred Willard.

While Fernwood 2nite has yet to get a DVD release it's widely available on You Tube. One of the recurring guests that always cracked me up was Bill Kirchenbauer as pathetic lounge singer Tony Rolletti. Kirchenbauer's performances got broader as he explored the character - He, Mull and Willard had a remarkable rapport.

Although the show lasted but one brief summer season (5 nights a week for 13 weeks plus reruns) fans waited for word on whether Fernwood 2Night would return. It didn't seem likely, ratings were lousy, but the people who did watch loved it. The improvisational humor and the hip attitude stood in stark contrast to anything one would normally find on TV at 11:00pm in 1977.

The production did return the next spring, upgraded to America 2nite with a big name guest star each week. Probably the best episode of America 2Night was the wedding of Tony Rolletti, it's actually a two-parter, a spoof of the Tonight show nuptials between Tiny Tim & Miss Vickie. The guest star was Tom Waits who was his ice cold best singing 'The Piano Has Been Drinking' on part one and 'Better Off Without a Wife' in the show below from May 26, 1978:

Audience numbers for America 2Night weren't much better than the year before so this ground-breaking comedy disappeared in the fall of 1978. There have been a number of reunions with Martin Mull and Fred Willard, most notably they played boyfriends for several seasons on Roseanne.