NBC puts spotlight on funny ladies of TV

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

If you love women and comedy -- and who doesn't -- then NBC has a special for you. Megan Mullally sheds her "Will & Grace" character's decadent demeanor and squeaky voice to host "Great Women of Television Comedy" (7 p.m., NBC). Compiled by the Museum of Television & Radio, this 90-minute clip-fest celebrates all of the usual suspects, including Lucille Ball, Imogene Coca, Carol Burnett and Mary Tyler Moore, as well as the comedy stylings of Penny Marshall, Jane Kaczmarek and others.

There's something for everybody here, including many of Lucy's best bits, Burnett's contagious laughter, Elaine's bad dancing on "Seinfeld," the raucous birthing scene on "Murphy Brown" and the rare honesty of "Roseanne"'s take on domestic bliss. But as a critic, I have to quibble about some oversights. I was surprised that a spotlight on physical comedy did not mention Mullally's "Will & Grace" cast mate Debra Messing, who never lets her status as television's premiere fashion plate get in the way of inspired pratfalls. Mary Tyler Moore deserves all of the attention that is lavished on her here, but "Great Women" unfolds as if Rhoda (Valerie Harper) never existed. That's a scandal. And with its emphasis on TV comedy as a mirror of women's liberation, the show completely ignores some of the classic housewives of early sitcoms, including Barbara Billingsley, whose serene unflappability made the childish antics on "Leave it to Beaver" all the more amusing.

And while I know this special honors real-life comediennes, no collection of great female TV characters is truly complete without mentioning "The Simpsons"' Marge Simpson or Peggy Hill from "King of the Hill," and the very capable actresses (Julie Kavner and Kathy Najimy) who provide their voices.

Episode one takes place in a series of flashbacks during Ellie's therapy session. Predictable elements include a sex-starved Icelandic tennis player, a spat over a handicapped-parking space and a few prosthetic gags. One almost wishes that "Ellie" had simply faded away while we weren't watching.

Tonight's other highlights

Series notes

A sailor becomes a serial-murder suspect on "JAG" (7 p.m., CBS) ... Faith returns on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (7 p.m., UPN).

On back-to-back episodes of "According to Jim" (ABC), Jim's ex (Crystal Bernard) shows up for dinner (7:30 p.m.), Cheryl is mugged (8 p.m.).

Clark thinks he's found a kindred spirit on "Smallville" (8 p.m., WB) ... Used car hunting on "Lost at Home" (8:30 p.m., ABC).

Late night

Tom Russell and Nanci Griffith perform on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno hosts Dustin Hoffman, Chris Matthews and Maria McKee on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).

Lisa Kudrow, Dondre T. Whitfield and The Roots are booked on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (11:35 p.m., NBC) ... Eric Idle, Laura Elena Harring and Dishwalla appear on "The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn" (11:37 p.m., CBS).