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'Pioneers of Television' review: Funny folks

Diahann Carroll as Julia, TV’s first African-American woman

Diahann Carroll as Julia, TV’s first African-American woman in a a non-servant role. Credit: NBC / Photofest

THE SERIES "Pioneers of Television"

WHEN | WHERE Season premiere Tuesday at 8 p.m. on PBS/13

WHAT IT'S ABOUT More TV legends talk about their claims to fame, as Season 4's four weekly hours explore the medical genre, comedy acting, ethnic groundbreakers and, first up, "Standup to Sitcom."

Of this week's six funny folks, two have local connections. Jerry Seinfeld is the first to discuss molding his NBC series around his observational routines, because, he says, if you're doing standup, "you're not really good at anything but that." Ray Romano, though, is shown stretching from the Long Island family laughs of CBS' "Everybody Loves Raymond" to the midlife drama of TNT's "Men of a Certain Age."

Both discuss shaping their shows' creation, as do Roseanne Barr (feminist working class mom of ABC's "Roseanne"), Tim Allen (suburban grunting dad of ABC's "Home Improvement"), Bob Newhart (CBS' 1970s "Bob Newhart Show" and '80s "Newhart"), and Bill Cosby (NBC's smash "Cosby Show").

MY SAY Maybe the word "explore" is too heavy for what "Pioneers" does: collect interesting first-person anecdotes that never quite coalesce into insight. This hour is focused as much on standup craft as sitcom-building, and fails to put the comics' genre-expanding series concepts into the context of their times. It's a quick dash through a topic -- and an ensemble of artists -- deserving more depth.

But it's loaded with great series clips. And youthful standup glimpses -- Romano's old black-and-white tape; Seinfeld, Allen and Roseanne debuting on Johnny Carson's king-making "Tonight Show."

BOTTOM LINE Tasty. But not very filling.


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