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Maybe TV doesn’t need a second ‘Honeymooners’

From left, Jackie Gleason, Audrey Meadows, Art Carney

From left, Jackie Gleason, Audrey Meadows, Art Carney and Joyce Randolph as, respectively, Ralph and Alice Kramden and Ed and Trixie Norton, in a 1955 "Honeymooners" publicity photo. Credit: AP

Remember the New Coke?

This came along in 1985 when, for reasons yet impossible to understand, Coca-Cola decided to tweak the original formula — you know, the one that made Coke, Coke.

There was plenty of corporate fanfare and promises that the beloved drink would be better than ever.

Consumers quickly made their own assessment — something along the lines of, “You gotta be kidding” — and in a few months, original Coke was back on the shelves. The “new” version hung around for years but the jury had decided: Dumb.

In the Realm of Really Bad Ideas, New Coke was a corker.

Here’s another: There’s talk about modernizing “The Honeymooners.”

As reported by Verne Gay in Newsday, “ ‘The Honeymooners’ is about to be exhumed by CBS for a series reboot, becoming just the latest — and most improbable — classic to return from the dead.”

“Rebooting” Jackie Gleason and the gang? Might as well turn Christmas into Flag Day. “To the moon!” as Gleason warned when aggravated.

From 1951 to 1956, first on DuMont’s Channel 5 in New York and, briefly, on CBS, Gleason and his fabulous ensemble cast — Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, Joyce Randolph — sewed up Saturday nights.

Especially for working-class people, “The Honeymooners” was reality TV. Gleason, from Chauncey Street, Brooklyn, knew his characters — Ralph, Norton, Alice, Trixie — and his viewers, too, and how often their dreams went bust and their pride took a beating, and how, no matter what, they carried on. He knew us.

“Hurry up, it’s starting,” we’d say as the TV began to glow and Mom put leftovers in the refrigerator and Dad, weary after a week on the bread truck, lowered his weight with a grunt and sigh into the easy chair.

In our house on 69th Street — an apartment that looked like it could have been across the hall from Ralph and Alice — “The Honeymooners” was a cultural event and celebration of sorts. It made us laugh at the world — our world — and told us it was OK to be who we were.

Ralph was a bus driver who wore a waist-length jacket that was a double for the one my father, Fred, buttoned up when he headed, early each morning, to the General Baking Co. on Flatbush Avenue.

His truck loaded with Bond Bread, Dad made the rounds of little food stores and restaurants in Park Slope. He hauled cases until midafternoon and took the subway home. When he walked in the front door, the poor guy was wasted.


Wherever Alice shopped for housedresses, Mom — Winnie — must have, too. It looked like she was wearing the drapery. On top of the dress was an apron that Mom tied in back when she got Dad breakfast and loosened only after the dinner dishes were done.

Dreams? You bet.

When they were younger, Mom and Dad twice opened delis on Third Avenue in Bay Ridge and twice went under. They made sandwiches, sold pickles from a barrel and served up Mom’s homemade potato salad. No luck. Something called the “supermarket” arrived and nudged them out.

They kept hope alive. Sundays, they’d walk along Shore Road and gaze across the Narrows to Staten Island. The houses were grand in this part of Brooklyn — grass, garages, plenty of room. Wouldn’t it be swell, they said to one another, maybe a house on Shore Road someday? If we get a break. Maybe.

Otherwise, they had one extravagant hope: a cruise. Board one of those beautiful ships on the West Side piers and sail away for a week or two — Bermuda, Montego Bay, the Virgin Islands!

Like Ralph and Alice, Fred and Winnie were doomed to dockside.

After the delis failed, Dad went to work for Bond Bread. Mom took care of the house and later worked as a secretary for a Wall Street firm.

They never moved from the little place on 69th Street. They slept in what was supposed to be the parlor because I got the real bedroom. No Shore Road, no cruise, no breaks.

But on Saturday night, “The Honeymooners.”

When Ralph got into trouble, or when one of his half-baked ideas went flooey, and Alice gave him that look, Winnie would tug at Fred’s sleeve.

“Yeah,” Dad would say. “Yeah.”

The gang at CBS can “reboot” all they want. Who knows, maybe “The Honeymooners — Millennium Edition” will be a hit. For me, it’s New Coke vs. old. All these years later, nothing beats the real thing.


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